Review: The Purple Rose of Cairo
Set in 1930s New Jersey, Mia Farrow plays a depressed waitress with a loutish loser for a husband (Danny Aiello). She finds her escape at the local movie theatre, particularly fond of “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, which she has already seen several times. This latest time she goes to see it, though, something is…different. The film’s romantic adventurer character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), seemingly talks to her! In fact, he ends up walking right out of the picture and into the real world. This causes all kinds of troubles for Hollywood, as screenings of the film throughout the country experience similar issues, not to mention that it leaves the other characters in the film (played by the likes of John Wood, Deborah Rush, Edward Herrmann, Milo O’Shea, and Van Johnson!) standing around unsure of what to do or say, since the picture has now changed. Meanwhile, Farrow also bumps into Gil Shepherd (also Daniels), the actor who portrays Baxter, who is not at all happy with the situation. Both Baxter and Shepherd, by the way, take a liking to Farrow. Dianne Wiest and Glenne Headly briefly appear as hookers (!).
Somewhat of a forerunner to the later (and better) “Pleasantville”, this 1985 Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”, “Deconstructing Harry”, “Manhattan”, “Magic in the Moonlight”) flight of fancy is a nice movie, and a very easy watch. It’s probably Woody’s ‘nicest’ movie to date. It probably ought to be longer, and surely no one’s buying Dianne Wiest as a hooker (even a young Glenne Headly is a stretch), but so far as (very) lightweight entertainment goes, it’s hard to be too down on this one. Yes, I would’ve liked more for Hollywood veteran Van Johnson to do, but it’s just nice to even have him here at all, to be honest.
Like Woody’s later “Midnight in Paris”, the film is whimsical fantasy, but unlike that film, this one works and isn’t pretentious crap. Danny Aiello and particularly Jeff Daniels (in dual roles) especially stand out in the cast. Daniels (who gave the best performance of his career in “Pleasantville”) is perhaps a little too spoofy in the role of the movie-within-a-movie character, but he’s really good at playing the actor. I thought it was a great idea to have the two main love interests be an actor and the fictional character he plays. Mia Farrow’s unhappy housewife and daydreamer character has to choose between fantasy and reality, as it were. Aiello is perfectly cast as the no-good thug of a husband, and Mia Farrow is well-cast too. I also loved that when a movie character walks out of the film, the other characters stand around waiting for him to return and each argue that they are the main character in the story. That was hilarious.
It’s nonsense, but clever nonsense, and although it angered and deflated me at the time, on reflection I have to admit that the ending has to be the way it is. At first I thought it was a lousy note to end on, but given the points being made in the film, it might just be perfect as is. Feeling deflated at the end is somewhat the point, I think. I also enjoyed the choice of song (‘Cheek to Cheek’) over the opening credits, one of the best musical intros for a Woody Allen film.
Apparently one of Woody’s favourites of his own films, this is a nice, breezy flight of fancy with a mostly good cast and some clever moments throughout. I prefer the later “Pleasantville” by far (not to mention Buster Keaton’s clever silent film “Sherlock Jr.”, which has similarities), but this is still cute, albeit with a touch of sadness.