The Purple Rose of Cairo

Rated PG 82 minutes

Woody Allen's naive notions of art—he thinks it means a story with a moral—might have some primitive charm if he didn't put them forward so self-importantly. And the sophomoric illusion-versus-reality games he plays in this 1985 film might be easier to take if he had the directorial skills necessary to establish a meaningful demarcation between the two worlds: as it stands, his “reality” is just as flimsily conceived, and populated by characters every bit as flat and arbitrary, as the romantic illusion the film is meant to criticize. The film's small-town Depression-era setting is picturesquely bleak (under Gordon Willis's brackish cinematography, it makes the London of Michael Radford's Nineteen Eighty-four look like Club Med) and peppered with poetically wistful Fellini-isms (run-down whores, an abandoned amusement park). And as the put-upon housewife who finds escape and fulfillment at the local Bijou, Mia Farrow is the embodiment of every obnoxious Hollywood cliche of the “little person”—fragile, waiflike, terminally pathetic. When an actor (Jeff Daniels) steps down from the screen and sweeps her off to a land of perfect romance, we're supposed to feel the wonder of fantasy transforming a tragic reality, but it's really just one sentimental convention running off with another. With Danny Aiello, Ed Herrmann, John Wood, and Dianne Wiest.

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