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THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello, Dianne Wiest
Director:  Woody Allen
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  82 Minutes
Release Date:  November 9, 2001

“I just met the most wonderful man.  He’s fiction, but you can’t have everything.”

Film ****

Woody Allen has made plenty of movies for the brain and for the funny bone…The Purple Rose of Cairo is for the heart.  Warm and genuine, with a lively wit, sense of fantasy, and beautifully romantic, it’s no wonder the Woodman has often called this on the favorite of all his films.

Mia Farrow is perfect as Cecilia, a Depression-era waitress living in New Jersey with an ogre of a husband (Aiello) and job troubles.  Her only escapism is the movies, and her favorite one is The Purple Rose of Cairo, a black and white romantic comedy that represented everything about the fantasy worlds of films from that time period.

But one day, something unusual happens…the handsome adventurer character, Tom Baxter (Daniels), comes down off the screen to talk to Cecilia, whom he’s noticed there in the audience show after show!  Not only is this a shocker for poor Cecilia, but it turns the world of the movie upside down, as the plot can no longer progress without the character of Tom…panic ensues as the people on the screen and the audience begin to hurl angry insults at one another!

Meanwhile, Tom, who is literally too good to be true, begins romancing the waifish Cecilia.  He loves her with the kind of love one usually only sees in the movie.  He is charming and innocent, and missteps a lot in the real world.  He doesn’t realize that the money in his pocket is stage money, for example, leading to the pair’s mad dash from a posh restaurant, or what happens during real lovemaking (in the movies, there is always a fade to black, he explains).  Cecilia, who has been unhappy and unloved most of her life, can’t believe her good fortune.

But in the world of motion pictures, things are not so good.  The film’s studio, RKO, fears lawsuits and other repercussions from Tom Baxter wandering around in the real world.  The point the finger of blame at actor Gil Shepard (Daniels, of course), the man who played the part.  With a career just about to take off, the anxious Gil heads for New Jersey to try to convince Tom that he doesn’t belong in the real world, and should go back up on the screen so that his bewildered cast mates can finish the picture!

The story gets complicated as Gil, too, finds himself falling for the sweet, warm Cecilia.  By the end of the film, she is faced with a choice:  does she go with Tom, who is perfect, devoted, loyal, but unreal?  Or does she take her chance with Gil, who is flawed but not a fantasy?  I wouldn’t dream of giving away the ending.  Suffice to say, it is one of the most moving ones I’ve ever seen in a film…you’ll never forget it.

As mentioned, Mia Farrow shines as Cecilia…this may be my favorite of all the roles I’ve seen her play.  We, as the audience, invest so much into her character…we can’t help it.  She is lovely and vulnerable, and we find ourselves rooting for her happiness every step of the way.  Jeff Daniels, in one of the earliest roles I remember seeing him in, is equally adept as Tom/Gil.  He gives each character his own sense of life and motivation, and comes across as likable and charming as both, but in different ways.  And Dianne Wiest, in her first role in an Allen film, has a good stolen scene or two as a prostitute who tries in her own way to acquaint Tom Baxter with the real world!

Woody Allen, as writer and director, has created a singular masterpiece with Purple Rose.  His delicate blend of fantasy and reality is appealing, romantic, and thought-provoking.  What does one do when faced with the kind of decision Cecilia has to make?  “One can’t choose fantasy,” Allen has remarked, “because that can lead to madness…and when you choose reality, you get hurt.”

Or, as Allen has also said, “I hate reality.  But it’s the only place where you can get a good steak.”

Video ***

This is another pleasant anamorphic transfer from MGM, and one that services Gordon Willis’ photography quite well.  The picture, as you might expect, has a certain old fashioned look to it, with sometimes muted but very warm colors, and sometimes purposely soft images…harsh lines would have been in contrast to the moods, for the most part.  There is no bleeding that I could see, and only one or two instances in darker settings where detail was a little hazy, but these are minor complaints.  Overall, this is a quality viewing experience.

Audio **1/2

This is a typical Woody Allen mono mix, made a little better than average by the bright presentations of old songs and solid, clear dialogue throughout.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Even if you’d say to me, “I’m not a Woody Allen fan,” I’d still implore you to at least see The Purple Rose of Cairo.  It’s sweet, nostalgic, funny, romantic, and heartbreaking…a true cinematic treat from end to end.