Monday, September 9, 2013
MOVIE OF THE WEEK: The Purple Rose Of Cairo
Just yesterday I lamented the failed execution of an abitious concept in "Electrick Children". Well, as if to emphasize the point further, I stumbled upon Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" a prime example of an ambitious idea that actually works. In this film, a woman named Cecilia (Mia Farrow) gets a spark in her unsatisfying life when a movie character walks off screen and enters her world. After the initial shock of it, they become better acquainted and form a romantic relationship. It's an outrageous idea no doubt, but unlike Rebecca Thomas (director of "Electrick Children"), Woody Allen has a firm grasp on his story and its finer details.
One of the great things about the film is its willingness to challenge the audience. The story has elements of fantasy and in mixing these aspects with real world scenarios, it forces you to accept a far-fetched situation. Whereas other films would cop out and explain the strange occurrences as one woman's silly dream, Allen runs with the idea and makes it a real situation. It makes for a highly amusing film, as the interactions between the movie characters and persons in the real world have a delightfully wry sense of humour. It's easily one of Woody Allen's funnier films. I do wish it wasn't so pleasant all the time (especially with its Great Depression setting and mentions of domestic abuse) but it fits with the established tone. Much credit goes to Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels, as they truly sell the optimism of the story and its characters. I've never seen Mia Farrow so sweet and relatable and Daniels conveys an affable sincerity.
If you have even the slightest knowledge of cinema, it's clear that Allen is referencing classic cinema, especially the screwball comedies of the time. With this in place, there's a jaunty quality to the action that evokes a lot of charm. This isn't a lazy re-hash of older storylines and characters though. What he creates here is his own original invention, capturing the theme of hope in a time of despair. It's a masterstroke, as it applies to both the main character's story and the setting. Cecilia's life is unfulfilling but she finds comfort in the magic of the cinema. On a macro-level, the magic also contrasted with the society's mood as a whole. With the lack of employment and a pervading uncertainty about the future, the glamour of the cinema provided much needed relief for many people. It's true escapism that epitomizes why the art form has endured with such reverence and popularity.
With a great sense of time and place (the costumes and production design are top notch) and winning performances, "The Purple Rose of Cairo" is one of Woody Allen's best outright comedies. At 82 minutes, it's also a very easy watch. You have no excuse to miss this one.