Sometimes inspired, sometimes insipid. Luckily, it's more of the former
, 07 Nov 2004
If like me, you tune into Woody Allen's movies to see Woody Allen's trademark Woody Allen character, you will be disappointed with this movie as it features an unprecedented zero percent Woody Allen. When I discovered this, I feared the worst as I tend to like Allen's movies for his character and not much else (aside from 'Annie Hall', which may well be the most perfect film ever made), but, to my surprise, I found that there's a lot to like about this surreal fantasy. The plot is weird to say the least (although it's less weird if you've seen The Last Action Hero). I feared that Allen might miss the mark with such a strange plot (like he did with 'Sleeper', another surreal fantasy), and although some of the jokes and ideas don't work; I most certainly do think that Allen has hit the nail on the head with this film. Well, almost. The plot follows Cecilia, a bored housewife in 1930's New Jersey. In an attempt to fill a void in her life, Cecilia visits the cinema. A lot. However, she gets an unsuspected surprise one day at the cinema while viewing the new film which is, strangely enough, titled; 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', when a minor character (but one that holds it all together), Tom Baxter gets up and walks off the screen, only to fall deeply in love with Cecilia. However, all is never rosy, as Gil Shepard, the up and coming actor that plays Tom Baxter in the movie is non too pleased that he has a doppelganger walking around, and so turns up in Cecilia's life as another challenger for her heart...
Where this film works is when it's concentrating on the film character in the real world. Seeing him learn about the difference between the real world and the world of the movies is always amusing and it allows Woody Allen to make some amusing observations between the two. However, Woody Allen seems too intent on being as surreal as possible, and some of the more weird things in the movie - such as the rest of the movie cast talking to the audience about the predicament they are in - come off being unfunny and therefore don't really work. I can see why Allen would have included that idea in the movie, and it's a good one that could potentially garner lots of laughs, but Woody didn't handle it right and the result just doesn't work. Furthermore, without Woody Allen, it just doesn't seem like a Woody Allen movie. To be honest, I don't think the film would have fit Allen's character - the two lead roles certainly don't fit him, but I like to see Woody Allen in movies, so him not being here is disappointing, for me anyway. That being said, the rest of the cast, particularly the two leads, do a wonderful job of carrying the movie. Jeff Bridges, a massively underrated actor, is a perfect fit for the dual role of Tom Baxter and Gil Shepard and he really does the film proud. Mia Farrow is another inspired casting choice for her character; she's a sublime actress ? and you could certainly imagine her being a bored housewife (no offence, Mia...).
And now I come to the 'point' of the movie. The movie most definitely seems like it has a defining point.... but what is it? The point is, almost, lost under a barrage of surreal images and general weirdness. However, there is definitely one here so let's see if we can find it? is Woody trying to tell his audience that if a movie character steps out of the screen and falls in love with you, don't turn him down? Is Woody trying to say that a perfect man (or woman) cannot exist in this imperfect world? Is Woody trying to tell people that their unrealistic fantasies won't come true, and even if they did; they still wouldn't come out perfectly? Is he trying to say that the world of fiction and reality shouldn't collide? Is Allen trying to tell us that nothing is perfect? That everything belongs in it's place? I think that this film says all of these things, but united under one simple message; life isn't perfect. Fair enough.
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