The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:  Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello 
Plot:  In 1930s New Jersey, a movie character walks off the screen and into the real world. 

Genre:  Comedy / Fantasy / Romance
Awards:  Won FIPRESCI prize (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.
Runtime:  82min 
Rating:  PG for some sexual references. 

Ask any fan to name Woody Allen’s top five films and the usual suspects include Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979).  The Purple Rose of Cairo is another familiar face.  In my opinion, it is slightly overrated, but I have to admit that the film showcases Allen at his most creative. 

Starring Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels, this romantic-comedy is unconventional and hardly contains neurotic dialogue that Allen is so famous for.  Yet there is no doubting the quality of the film, which thus far, remains to be one of Allen’s most unique efforts. 

The Purple Rose of Cairo is set in the Depression era and tells the story of Cecilia (Farrow), a poor waitress with a beast of a husband.  She spends most of her free time watching movies at a nearby theatre, perhaps recognizing that it is the only comforting consistency in her life. 

While she watches a film entitled The Purple Rose of Cairo (for the eighth time!), the picture’s hero Tom Baxter (Daniels) pops out of the screen into reality to the surprise of Cecilia, the audience and the movie characters.  Together, Baxter and Cecilia explore life (and love) as it goes with hilarious circumstances. 

With Baxter literally out of the picture, the cast refuse to carry on acting to the ire of paying moviegoers.  Gil Shepherd (Daniels in his second role) who plays Tom Baxter worries that his career will careen downhill.  He comes out with a plan to seduce Cecilia.  

This triangle relationship makes it a fascinating watch.  Cecilia falls in love with two men who are, well, the same guy.  Baxter is a fantasy; he is fiction- turned-reality.  On the other hand, Shepherd is real and far from fiction. 

Allen’s direction is gentle and soft, allowing his characters space to be themselves.  He succeeds in blurring the lines that divide fantasy and reality, giving the film a subtle feel of surrealism.  In addition, he uses color and black-and-white scenes to brilliant effect.  Reality is painted with drab and dull colors while fantasy is colored so beautifully in black-and-white. 

Despite the layered narrative, Allen makes the film a breeze to sit through.  He ensures there are no serious undertones that lurk beneath the main plot, opting for more comedy and less melodrama.  Dramatic scenes are bittersweet and there is always that upbeat feel that radiates from the picture. 

The movie-in-a-movie approach still remains fresh after more than two decades . The Purple Rose of Cairo is perhaps the director’s homage to cinema, to the joy it brings, the illusion it creates, and the magic it weaves.  It makes us wonder and dream that maybe one day our favorite actor or actress will come off the screen and sweep us off our feet too. What would we do?

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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