MOVIE REVIEW: “The Purple Rose of Cairo” stars Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby, Crimes and Misdemeanors), Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, The Newsroom [TV series]), Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing, Léon: The Professional), Dianne Wiest (The Birdcage, Hannah and Her Sisters), Edward Herrmann (The Lost Boys, Overboard), John Wood (Ladyhawke, Chocolat), Deborah Rush (You’ve Got Mail, In & Out), Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny, Battleground), Zoe Caldwell (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Lilo & Stitch), Irving Metzman (WarGames, Annie ), Stephanie Farrow (Zelig, Exposed), David Kieserman (Broadway Danny Rose, Spenser: For Hire [TV series]), and Paul Herman (Silver Linings Playbook, Heat). It is written and directed by Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris).
In 1935 New Jersey, a woman (Farrow) who seeks escapism from her drab existence at the movie theater finds herself in for an adventure when one of her favorite movie heroes Tom Baxter (Daniels) steps out of the screen and into her life.
A while back, I listened to an interview with Jeff Daniels where he discussed his big break into Hollywood: “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” The production intrigued me, and once I heard that Woody Allen was behind the camera, I knew I had to watch it at some point. So, on a random Tuesday night, I did.
Allen has a love for the early 20th century. Though it was riddled with war and depression, the director gleams it for its zest in the melancholy. In the case of “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” we find a sad woman, Cecillia, who works a deadend waitress job, always having to give most of her salary to her deadbeat husband (Aiello) who’d rather play craps with the fellas than find work. The cinema has been the key to Cecillia’s happiness, and her life suddenly takes a turn when she is swept off her feet by one of her film heroes, who literally steps out of the movie she is watching and into the real world. Quite crazy, right? Tell me about it. Allen always had a flair for the romantic, and this one revels in the attraction to film escapism.
For a short and simple picture, “The Purple Rose” has plenty of surprises. It’s the most innocent story I’ve seen Allen put on screen, despite the rather saddening backdrop and character. In fact, it’s Allen’s use of innocence as a mask that makes the overall picture mesmerizing. Cecillia lives a rough life, but her crutch of the movie theater puts a bandaid on everything. It’s all matter-of-fact, whether it be the situations or humor injected in them. There’s no grandiose moment, nor any dwelling on the lunacy of the events that have transpired. When Tom Baxter notices Cecillia for the third time in the theater room and proceeds to step off the screen, it all happens in such a quick succession that I was hardly given time to process what just happened. And I believe that it’s in this playful, harmless execution that makes the movie feel like it was produced in the 30’s.
As the tale unwinds and the stakes raise, the picture’s theme transforms. What I believed to be a straightforward narrative of a woman finding her joy was actually a painting of what it’s like to invest (or obsess) in the imaginary. The ending of this comes as a shock; also, it’s pretty sad. I wasn’t sure what to think of it after first viewing. To be honest, I kind of hated it. After such a long journey with a woman who deserved something better in life… why have things end for her the way they did? Clearly, Allen had something more hard-hitting to say. And if you prefer happy endings, then this isn’t really the movie for you.
“The Purple Rose of Cairo” is a pretty beautiful film. The production design is wonderful to look at, from the wardrobe to the locations. It’s a short story, that doesn’t take time to dwell on the moments (both big and small). I enjoyed the performances, which seemed to capture the Golden Era Hollywood charm that is lost on today’s cinema; Jeff Daniels turns in a rather humorous role (actually playing two characters), and I can see why this was a launch pad for him. Also, Mia Farrow is great. A solid choice to helm Cecillia. The film itself isn’t my favorite Allen flick, but it certainly has enough going for it to warrant a watch. It’s original, funny, an easy runtime, and has a hard-hitting conclusion. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend. FINAL SCORE: 85%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: