The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

25 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What if you saw the same movie so many times that one of the characters (who is practically the main reason you keep seeing this movie in the first place) actually starts to notice you? That’s what happens to Cecilia (Mia Farrow) in Woody Allen’s delightful fantasy-comedy “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” During the Great Depression era, in a distressing time in her small-town life, Cecilia finds solace in the cinema, feeling the magic of the movies. The movie she goes to see is “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” an adventure movie about an archaeological explorer named Tom Baxter. After Cecilia sees the film several times, in a fabulous scene, Tom notices her seated in the audience, breaks the fourth wall, and starts up a conversation with her. He has apparently noticed her watching all this time, and so he literally steps off of the movie screen and into the real world, as Cecilia decides to show him around town.

This is fantastic! It’s great wish-fulfillment for movie buffs alike; what if this happened to you? What if your favorite actor/actress (or rather, your favorite actor/actress playing a character) suddenly emerged off the silver screen just to talk to you and be with you? “The Purple Rose of Cairo” wants to play that, and the way it goes along with this idea is thought-provoking, fun to watch, amusing, and sweet. This is a movie that truly loves movies and is made with skill and delight by the great writer-director Woody Allen.

The movie has fun with the simplicity of this woman and this movie character in how they can develop a romance with no setbacks whatsoever. Tom knows that things aren’t so simple as in the movies, but his presence is a relief to Cecilia who sees him as a way of making her bleak, unfair life feel better. There are problems, though. In the movie’s funniest subplot, the rest of the characters in the fictional film are still lingering about on the screen, waiting impatiently for Tom to return so the movie can keep going. Audience members that pop in complain, stating “they didn’t do this last time I saw the movie.” And also, the theater owner has called the studio that distributed the film, stating the problem that the character is missing. And so what do the studio executives do? They bring in the actual actor of that character of Tom, Gil Shepard (both roles played by Jeff Daniels, by the way), and send him to that town so that he can convince his character to go back into the movie. He encounters Cecilia, who understands the situation…and then they develop a sort of romance themselves!

I love how creative Allen gets with the storytelling here, with the love triangle between Cecilia, Tom, and Gil; the other characters lingering on the screen; the decision that Cecilia must make between the two men now in her life; and so on. “The Purple Rose of Cairo” is a wonderful film from beginning to end. Even in the ending, which people have questioned Allen about, there’s something to be said about the sudden frankness of the situation. Without giving it away, there’s not a “happily-ever-after” in a traditional sense; it resolves itself as a reality sense. But there’s still one element of comfort—the movies. When Allen was asked why he didn’t film a happy ending for the film, his reaction was simple enough: “That was the happy ending.” The more you think about that while watching this film and pondering the details these characters go through, the more intriguing it is. “The Purple Rose of Cairo” is pure movie-magic.

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