The Purple Rose of Cairo
- Mia Farrow as Cecilia
- Jeff Daniels as Tom Baxter/ Gil Shepherd
- Danny Aiello as Monk
A comical, bittersweet movie about the magic of cinema and the line between reality and illusion, Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo is tinted with a heartwarming yet poignant charm and own sort of magic that makes it a lovely film.
It is the Great Depression and in New Jersey the poor, put upon waitress Cecilia is trying make ends meet as best as she can. She is trapped in a loveless marriage to the abusive and lazy Monk, who is unemployed but has no intention of getting a job as he is too busy drinking and gambling. To escape her humdrum and miserable life, Cecilia takes refuge in going to the cinema and becoming lost in the movies she watches. Her latest favourite movie is entitled The Purple Rose of Cairo and she has developed a liking of the explorer character Tom. While watching the movie for yet another time, something truly remarkable happens. Tom breaks the fourth wall and literally leaps off-screen, desperate to know the meek Cecilia. Astonished by this, she finds herself swept off her feet by the good-hearted Tom and finds herself growing attached to him, despite the fact that he is a fictional character who has entered reality. The actions of Tom leaving the film sends a wave of pandemonium through the cinema as Tom’s co-stars have no idea what to do without him in the scene, audience members become disgruntled that the movie is changed and even the studio producing the movie begins to panic about what will happen in the fall out. Meanwhile, Cecilia experiences adventures and love with the heroic Tom, who begins to realise that real life is a whole lot different from the glitz of movies. However, another surprise is on the way for Cecilia. The studio behind the movie has contacted Gil Shepherd, the actor who essayed the role of Tom and have sent him to New Jersey to see if he can repair any damage done. In contrast to the gentle and brave Tom, the man behind it is obsessed with keeping his career up and a little full of himself. But upon arrival, he begins to become enchanted with Cecilia too. Now it is up to Cecilia to decide whether to choose either the charming Tom or slightly arrogant Gil or return to the doldrums of her life.
Woody Allen displays masterful direction and writing throughout this bittersweet gem. He lovingly delves into the way that cinema has an impact on people and how it can provide literal and emotional escape from life’s troubles. He peppers events with humour, but it is underpinned by a poignancy that makes The Purple Rose of Cairo very moving. The film is full of delightful highlights from the sight of the movie stars on the screen bickering with discontented customers who want their money back to Tom and Gil confronting each other in amusing fashion, it is hard to fault The Purple Rose of Cairo in terms of ambition and clarity. Allen clearly knows that the audience can each view themselves like Cecilia, and with his beautiful direction and criss cross between comedy, drama and touching romantic fantasy, the results will definitely move you. The cinematography crafts the atmosphere outside as grim and troubled but employs brighter shades when Tom burst off-screen and lights up Cecilia’s life that has been in darkness for too long. A very good jazz score underlines the developing romance of the movie and brings both joy and sadness to the proceedings.
Mia Farrow turns in a beautifully touching performance as the downtrodden Cecilia. We immediately feel sympathy for her and her circumstances and we’d all love to just reach through the screen and comfort her. Farrow’s performance is so nuanced and filled with little things that make it work; the way her face lights up when viewing the eponymous movie, her silent tears as she realises her position in the world and the giddy sense of delight she feels as Tom courts her. All of this and more is found in a lovely performance from Mia Farrow. Jeff Daniels adroitly portrays two very different characters and delineates their opposing personalities and characteristics. Tom on one hand is the ideal guy with affable charm, whereas Gil is a cynical man more concerned with having nothing ruin his career. Daniels, who I always think can be underrated by many as an actor, shows exceptional talent here by embodying the two characters very well and helping form the emotional core of the movie, along with Mia Farrow. As Cecilia’s boorish husband who berates her at every turn, Danny Aiello is well cast.
Beautifully written, directed and acted, with true depth to the story as well as humour, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a purely magical film making from Woody Allen that delivers warmth and pathos to the story of escaping life with the powers of celluloid.