On the Aisle
by Tony Macklin
Writer Charlie Kaufman is the pseudo-intellectuals’ “intellectual.” He’s pompous, self-flagellating and pretentious. So they love him.
Kaufman makes Sarah Palin seem humble.
Kaufman wrote “Being John Malkovich,” which was a diverting sleight-of-mind movie. He followed that with “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” both of which had moments of diversion and hours of smugness. Kaufman is Oz behind a curtain of neurotic self-satisfaction.
Once you get a reputation in Hollywood, it sticks. Great actors and actresses flock to the wordsmithy Kaufman like sheep to a piping shepherd.
Like the fabled Woody Allen, Kaufman creates a neurotic persona who is a hypochondriac, fears death and is a magnet for all sorts of lovely and interesting women, who of course find him irresistible or at least worth of their attention.
But Kaufman is what Woody Allen would be if you took away Woody’s wit, style and sense of humor. This just leaves Kaufman’s messy ego. Kaufman is a navel-gazer, but he only discovers moldy lint in his navel.
Shameless Charlie decided to direct as well as write his latest opus, “Synecdoche, New York.” It begins with Caden Cotard, the name Colin Cowherd was already taken, (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a nervous theater director in Schenectady, N.Y., who has mounted a production of “Death of a Salesman” with a new slant — a young cast.
His wife, Adele (Catherine Keener), a visual artist, has no respect for him and abandons him, taking their 4-year-old daughter to Berlin where Adele is celebrated. The needy Caden is left trying to make sense out of his disordered life. Hint, Caden, you are a dull loser, and your movie should be titled Schmuckecdoche, New York.
But, of course, out of Kaufman’s addled imagination, Caden is awarded a MacArthur “genius grant,” which allows some naive reviewers to call Kaufman himself a “genius” in their reviews of his movie.
With his deus ex machina money, Caden moves to Manhattan, where he obtains a huge, empty warehouse and plans to create a play in which the actors with his help discover truth. That navel again.
When the script keeps bleating about “truth,” the chances are it won’t appear in the movie. To leaven it even more, Caden continually says, “I’m lonely.”
The characters in Caden’s play become interchanged, intermingled and inter-boring. Caden has sex with the actress (Emily Watson) who plays his friend Hazel, and Sammy (Tom Noonan), the character who plays Caden in the play (before Dianne Wiest takes over — don’t ask) has sex with Caden’s actual friend Hazel (Samantha Morton). It’s not confusing; it’s leaden. But I guess we’re supposed to care.
Kaufman seems to draw from Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” and Federico Fellini’s “81⁄2.” But Kaufman just embarrasses himself when one compares those three masterpieces with his very callow attempt.
The cast of “Synecdoche, New York” is first-rate, but it is hamstrung by second-rate writing and third-rate direction. Hoffman lumbers and shambles as Charlie Kaufman’s alter ego, the Creative One. The other actors carry the heavy load as well as they are able.
Kaufman seems to think the essence of life can be found in a toilet bowl. He is obsessed with the color of poop. There are discussions about green poop, red poop and gray poop. Oh, that intellectual Charlie!
Today we seem to be in a time when the bathroom prevails. It seems every TV comedy from “Two and a Half Men” to “The Big Bang Theory” dwells on bathroom humor as a running joke.
In my most recent visit to the doughnut shop, I saw a young man wearing a T-shirt that said, “I-Pood.” “Synecdoche, New York” is for him. It’s artsy-fartsy.
The dictionary defines synecdoche as “a figure of speech where a part stands for the whole.” Charlie Kaufman sits on his synecdoche.