"He's fictional, but you can't have everything...",
This review is from: The Purple Rose of Cairo [DVD] (DVD)
I consider myself to be a fan of Woody Allen's work - I particularly enjoy 'Annie Hall', 'Manhattan', 'Radio Days', 'Match Point' and 'Midnight in Paris', as well as his early stand-up material - but his filmography is so expansive that there are still so many of his films that I have yet to see. Finding myself with quite a bit of spare time on my hands, I made the decision to gradually make my way through the 20 disc box set of Allen's films, which I purchased some time ago. It's likely I'll have to sit through some duffers but at least it will prevent me from falling into the trap of aimlessly wandering about the house, making unnecessary beans on toast and masturbating. Probably.
'The Purple Rose of Cairo' is an absolute gem of a film, with all the charm, quirkiness and romantic whimsy of Allen's recent outing, Midnight in Paris but with a considerably darker conclusion. Released in 1985 to a quietly warm response from critics, the film is set during the American Depression of the 1930's and stars Mia Farrow as Cecilia, a clumsy waitress who takes regular trips to the cinema to escape from the melancholy of her life and the loveless, abusive marriage she finds herself trapped in. Her life is bleak but, within the confines of the cinema, she feels truly liberated. Cecilia becomes particularly infatuated with a romantic adventure called - yes - 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', the story of a rich Hollywood playwright who takes a trip to Egypt with his companions, meets the charming archaeologist Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) and brings him back to New York for a `madcap Manhattan weekend', where he falls in love with a Copacabana club singer. During her fifth visit to see the film, the archaeologist turns to the camera and tells Cecilia that he has noticed how in love she seems to be with the film and professes his attraction to her. Stepping out from the black-and-white world of the film, Baxter convinces Cecilia to show him the real world and the two run from the cinema together, leaving the audience - and the other characters in the picture - positively baffled. The two begin to fall in love but not without consequence. The other characters in the film are unable to continue the story with Baxter and are left bewildered and aimless, playing cards and shouting abuse at the audience. The actor Gil Shepherd (also played by Daniels), who portrayed the archaeologist onscreen, fearing that this anomaly will bring an end to his career, searches for his estranged character. A love triangle is soon established between Gil, his fictional counterpart and Cecilia, who must decide between fantasy and reality....
Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels are terrific in the lead roles, with the latter giving an incredibly charming performance that's worlds away from the goofball turn in Dumb & Dumber that he would, perhaps, become most closely associated with. Their romantic scenes together ooze with innocent charm and perfectly homage innumerable old school Hollywood love stories.
The film is beautifully shot, impeccably acted and, while there are flashes of vintage Allen comedy sprinkled throughout (the scenes depicting the befuddled characters left within the film-with-the-film are hilarious) it is permeated with a real sense of pathos, showcasing the undeniable versatility of Allen's abilities as a filmmaker. What could have quiet easily been a lightweight yarn has a bittersweet message that real life, unlike the movies, rarely has a happy ending.
I love 'The Purple Rose of Cairo' and, if you're a sentimental fool like me, you might too.