Charlie Kaufman’s outstanding debut as director pushes the creative envelope far beyond my expectation. Working with a cast of some of the top actors in Hollywood today – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton – Kaufman begins his story in the style of a blasé suburban drama, the quick edits pulling the reins on any significant emotional developments. But after a somewhat puzzling discussion with his marriage therapist, theatre director Caden Cotard (Hoffman) reflects upon his middling oeuvre so far and sets out to produce a piece worthy of his recently-received MacArthur grant, an interminable pet project into which Cotard puts a lot more of himself than he would readily admit. Actors play his lovers and colleagues on a set replicating the New York City landscape, creating a world so similar to Cotard’s own reality that he can distance himself from it sufficiently – or can he? Although this all sounds convoluted and confusing, there is sense to be made, and the ending is highly rewarding, in spite of the slightly maudlin histrionics directly preceding it.
Despite its fickle pace, constant surge of new characters and elaborate structure, Synecdoche, New York is a stark exhibition of one person’s soul, unparalleled in its sharp ingenuity. Although his protagonist struggles fatally with his artistic integrity, Kaufman himself triumphs spectacularly, taking on the dual role of director-writer with tenacity and aplomb. Synecdoche, New York is a wonderfully feverish film which proves its progenitor as one of the few undiluted talents working in the industry today.