The Purple Rose of Cairo: Imaginary Men are Better

The next film on our list is The Purple Rose of Cairo.  It's one of the many Woody Allen films included in the Top 1000, and stars Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels.

Mia Farrow is Cecilia, a waitress in Depression Era New Jersey who is obsessed with going to the movies. With her dead end job and dead beat husband (played by Danny Aiello), the cinema is the perfect way for her to escape her troubles.  She goes to see a new release, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and she sits through the film so many times that one of the characters develops an attachment to her.  Tom Baxter, a fictional archaeologist, is so smitten with the downtrodden housewife that he steps out of the film and into real life to be with her.

Romantic, right?  Well, kind of.  But there's a few reasons why this is potentially problematic.

Yeah, he's supposedly "the perfect guy".  He's loving, noble, honest, brave, and a great kisser.  But...he's also kind of useless.  I mean, I like all those qualities in a guy, but I would prefer one who understood how money worked and that you can't just sit in a car and expect it to drive itself.  Tom is sweet, but all he really does is sit around at the carnival and wait for Cecilia to show up.  There's a depression going on, Tom!  You need to pull your own weight!

I have to admit, I'm sort of on the same side as the studio.  You can't just have random characters wandering off the screen whenever they feel like it.  That way lies madness.  MADNESS, I tell you!  What if Voldemort decided to walk??  Or Amon Goeth?  I'll sleep easier knowing that all Ralph Fiennes characters are safely up on the screen where they belong, thank you very much.

So Gil Shepherd (the actor who played Tom Baxter) has to fly to Jersey and try to rein in his doppelganger.  In the process, he kinda sorta maybe develops a thing for Cecilia.  You know what?  I actually think Gil and Cecilia would be a good couple.  She's kind of a ditz who wants someone she can hero worship and will treat her right.  He wants someone to follow him around and tell him how awesome he is.  I'm not even being sarcastic -- their flaws make them compatible in a weird way.  And they're so cute when they play Alabamy Bound together!

So she chooses Gil over Tom, reality over fantasy.  Bad move, Cecilia.  As our dear friends Ethan Hawke and Janeane Garofalo would said, reality bites.

It breaks my heart when Gil leaves her behind.  I wonder how much of his feelings for Cecilia were just him acting?  It's open to interpretation, but I think he genuinely enjoyed her company.  I don't think for one second that he loved her like he said in the movie theater, but I think he was attracted to her, and if he wasn't so focused on his career, who knows?  Either way, you can definitely see the look of regret on his face as he flies back to Hollywood.  Although that could easily be nausea.  Gil hates flying, remember?

As much as I'm a little sad that I didn't get a big romantic ending, I don't think it would have worked for this film.  Bittersweet is almost always better than saccharine.  And the last scene, with Cecilia watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing together, so beautifully illustrates the power and magic of cinema as an escape from reality.  Which is the whole point of the movie anyway.

Random Musings:

  • I'm almost ashamed to admit that I totally identify with Cecilia.  Referencing movies other people have never heard of (because they actually have lives), spending all your time and money sitting in a dark room watching films...gee, I wonder what that's like?

  • So these one percenters are exploring a pyramid, run into some random guy skulking around, and invite him back to NY with them on a whim?  Maybe I should hang out in tombs more often.

  • "Dad was a card.  I never met him, he died before the movie."  For some reason I find this line incredibly amusing.

  • "I'm a dramatic character, I need forward motion!"  One of my favorite parts of the film is when all the characters in the picture are sitting around, waiting for Tom to get back.  They're hilarious because while they're still in character, they seem to have the self-awareness and vanity of the actors who play them.  Note how they all think the movie is about them.  And how funny is it that one of the characters tries to convince them all to unite as comrades?  Wink wink nudge nudge at the Red element in Hollywood in the 30s?

  • "If anyone needs me, I'll be in the bathroom.  On the floor.  Weeping."  OMG SO USING THIS LINE.

  • I love how offended both Gil and Tom get whenever people refer to him as a minor character.  And I love that Woody Allen is unafraid to repeatedly stop the action to allow them to voice their outrage.

So that's The Purple Rose of Cairo.  I think this might be my favorite Woody Allen film of all time.  In my opinion, he's at his best when he a) does not appear in the film as an actor (with few exceptions) and b) writes from an honest place of nostalgia.  I love his passion for the golden age of cinema.  I appreciate the little homage to Sherlock Jr.  His obvious love for the subject matter is what allows him to create such an engaging story with rich, wonderful characters.  I obviously feel for Cecilia, even Tom, and he isn't even a real person.

Also, as a history buff, I appreciate how authentic this film seems.  There really was something magical about the cinema during the 1930s, and Woody Allen captures that perfectly.  It's interesting to try and draw a parallel to the entertainment of today, during another major financial crisis.  In the 30s, you've got screwball comedies and huge, elaborate musicals.  It allowed the average people to escape into a world of glamour and ostentatious wealth.  Nowadays, I feel like our first reaction towards the upper classes (that were often shown in those films) would be anger at their extravagant spending.  But then again, we have Downton Abbey, which showcases the ultrarich in the early 20th century, and Iron Man, who is (in his own words) a "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist".  So maybe things haven't changed so much.

A few notes for the future of this blog, if there's anyone out there still reading.  I got majorly burned out trying to keep up with a five a week schedule, so for the foreseeable future I'm going to post reviews on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  On the other days, I might make shorter blog posts about other films or things that are happening in the entertainment industry that I want to talk about.  Or politics.  I might start randomly talking politics.  Who knows?  We'll see.

Thanks for reading! :)

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