The problem with ‘Synecdoche, New York’

Yes, the movie is “achingly, achingly sad,” as the L.A. Times put it. But watch the movie when you’re bummed out, and it’s not going to make you any worse. You may even feel better. After letting the Netflix sit on your kitchen counter for two and a half weeks, finding yourself without a voice or plans one night is the perfect time to sit down and enjoy the pain. When the movie is done, you might find yourself walking around in a warm rain, watching a lightning storm strike over the city and then heading back to the gym for the first time in weeks. It all feels good.

The swing vote on the movie isn’t — like I had expected — the value of deep introspection to the viewer. Instead, it’s what you demand from a director. How much do you want to see? If you want to get close to characters or close to their environment, Synecdoche lets you down.

Charlie Kaufman brings his usual terrific writing complexity, but his new hand at directing gives you too few of the shot-plain-through moments that balance the complexity and add power. You miss Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry overlooking the sprawl, nodding here and there for you, almost impercetibly at times but enough. As troubled as the characters may be in Synecdoche, you can hardly find how to feel for them. As big and wild as their landscape may be, you never learn how to walk with them there. They may fight with this world, but you get off too easily.

3 thoughts on “The problem with ‘Synecdoche, New York’”

  1. This is a much more complicated and interesting reaction to this movie than I had. My reaction was, in essence: “My head hurts.”

  2. What do you mean by “shot-plain-through moments”? The friend I went thought Kaufman borrowed a lot – a lot a lot – from Lynch. Since you are more educated in the cinematic world than I am, thought I’d throw it out there. I’ve only seen Mulholland Dr., and (doy) found it much darker than Synecdoche.

    I thought that the hearing-aid implant worked a bit too much like a deux ex machina for my comfort. Kaufman seemed willing to egage that raw alienation most often attributed to this “postmodern” world of ours and proceeds with a dramatic solution utterly removed from our ordinary lives. This, to me, was the chief frustration of an otherwise fascinating film. For what it’s worth. But I need to see it again.

  3. You’re ahead of me on this one, I’ve never seen anything by Lynch. On the moments of clarity, I mean Jonze and Gondry holding their focus on an emotion instead of a scene. Kaufman, maybe not having a director’s distant from the writing, never let go of the full scene in his shots, and I think the lack of pause hurt not only the average viewer but also the deep viewer’s sense of purpose (even if the purpose was mixed).

    Agree on the hearing aid. We never got any feeling of technological advancement until that point … and to have him drift away from the set, like the woman in his place took things to an entirely new level, I didn’t buy it. I felt like the script was taking me where it wanted to take me, and the story lost out.

    Not going to see it again anytime soon here. Not a big seeing movies again person … except maybe the Three Amigos and its ilk …

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