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.