Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Synecdoche, New York

Ambition. That's what most independent films lack, and what the directorial debut of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has, ad infintum, ad gloriam. It's an epic tragicomedy about Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a Schenectady, N.Y., theater director who moves to Manhattan with the gigantic notion of putting on a realistic drama as big as all New York City. A self-styled truth-teller (his full name anagrams to Acted Candor), Caden manages to exasperate or repel the fascinating women (including Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michelle Williams) who cross his downward path. The project drags on — it's his life's work, and it may take that long to finish — but Kaufman's imagination never falters. The movie keeps getting bigger and weirder and denser and sadder and finnier, till all the pressure on Caden leads to a final implosion. A movie so human you'll want to argue with it, spank it, take it home or give it some Xanax, Synecdoche is the richest, most devious — I'll cut to the chase and say best — live-action film of the year.