Monday, June 15, 2009

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Starring: Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow
Directed By: Woody Allen

It is hard for me to love any movie of Woody's more than this one. Watching it again only confirms that feeling.

The story starts at the height of the Great Depression. Cecilia (Mia Farrow, in what I feel is her best role)is a waitress in a diner, struggling to make ends meet while supporting an out of work husband (Danny Aiello) who treats her badly. Her only escape is her frequent trips to the movie theater where she completely loses herself in the lives of the romantic heroes on screen. After seeing a recent film, 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', and developing a crush on its adventurer-hero, Tom Baxter (played by a handsome, young Jeff Daniels), her trips to the cinema become more and more frequent. During one of her repeated viewings of the movie, Cecilia is shocked to find that Tom seems to NOTICE her watching from the audience. Her shock becomes total amazement when he begins to speak to her from the film and steps off of the screen to talk to her. Over the next few weeks, chaos reigns as the studio attempts to find the actor that plays Tom, Gil Shepherd, and see if he can convince his onscreen creation to get back in the movie! To make things even more complicated, the rest of the onscreen cast has to wait patiently for his return in order to continue the picture and they are getting impatient, casting rude barbs at the remaining audience members and threatening to leave the screen themselves. Incidentally, the remaining cast and their quandry provides the movie's biggest laughs!

The miracle about this movie is the direction, which never fails to be utterly convincing in its 'feel' for 1940's cinema or the bleakness of the Depression era. Woody Allen has created a masterpiece here that succeeds in being a fantasy and a lovely human comedy at the same time. Costumes, scene construction, music, characterizations...all of these combine to become a wonderfully effective piece of entertaining fantasy/realism.

The acting is wonderful on all counts as well. Mia Farrow really carries the movie, however, and should undoubtedly had garnered an Oscar for this achievement. Her face is at once naively optimistic and painfully exhausted throughout the film. The final moments of the movie never fail to move me to tears and its the expression in her eyes that accomplish this emotion. Jeff Daniels, like the dual role he portrays, was a relative newcomer at the time and he is likewise impressive as both the happy-go-lucky Tom Baxter and the aspiring movie star, Gil Shepherd.

Like most of Allen's movies, the script is marvelous and played with such strength by the entire cast. There are not many films that can succeed in being qualified 'heart-tuggers' and laugh-out-loud funny but this one is does that...and does it effortlessly! I highly recommend this movie to any and all fans, not only of Woody Allen, but of the best romantic comedies.

My rating: an easy 10/10


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