Who’s In It: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan
The Basics: Well, the “basics” of this particular movie are nearly impossible to encapsulate in such a short space. But if you were going to boil it down to one sentence, then that sentence would be “A man fails at life and art.” Hoffman is a theater director whose body disintegrates over many years as he builds an extremely grand-scaled and intricately detailed play about every single thing that happens to him. Then he sits on the sidelines and directs as actors play the roles of people in his life. And then more actors come along to play the actors playing the roles. Then it gets complicated.
What’s The Deal: A synecdoche is a figure of speech where the whole stands in for the part or the part stands in for the whole, like when someone says “All hands on deck” or when a band takes the arena stage and yells, “Houston, are you ready to rock?” But here Hoffman’s play eventually grows until the part becomes, literally, the whole, and ultimately removes him from control. But even that’s not fully what the movie’s about. Charlie Kaufman likes games and twisty realities but what he really wants is for his characters to connect, love and care for each other, even though they suck at doing that over and over and over. And now I realize that I’ve spent two chunks of this review not telling you how perfect and heartbreaking and funny and amazing and infuriating and confusing this movie is. So there. It is.
Best Gimmick: Samantha Morton’s character lives in a perpetually burning house, which fits in perfectly with the logic of a world where doppelgangers take over the lives they mirror, people who connect and get along “like a house on fire” never wind up together, and extreme discomfort and suffering is simply adapted to as a miserable fact of life.
For Fans Of: Being John Malkovich, The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, Adaptation, jumping through hoops, impossible mazes, the romance of failure, the humor inherent in despair, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Jennifer Jason Leigh disheveled.
See It With: Someone. Anyone. You’ll need another human being to argue with when it’s over.