Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels
Watch The Purple Rose of Cairo online in the UK: Netflix UK
Anyone who’s seen Speed or Dumb and Dumber has probably spent at least one hour of their life wishing that Jeff Daniels would come down off the screen and into real life. That’s exactly what happens to unsuspecting, unhappily married Cecilia (Mia Farrow).
Going to see the titular old-school matinee five times to avoid her violent husband, she’s amazed when lead hero Tom Baxter (Daniels) recognises her in the audience. He soon enters the auditorium, running away with Cecilia out of the multiplex for a brilliant, fantastical fling.
As a fictional character, Tom finds life fascinating. Unaware of anything outside of the film’s frame, he doesn’t know what happened before the opening credits or what to do after the ushers have swept up the popcorn. One scene sees him bewildered after their dramatic first kiss. He stops, confused. “Where’s the fade-out?”
Things become more post-modern when cinema patrons start to complain about Tom’s fellow characters, who can’t continue the movie without him. “Don’t turn the projector off! It gets black and we disappear!” they cry, terrified of human intervention. So they stay there, sitting in the same monochrome room waiting for the plot to move forward. “We should be at the Copa Cabana,” says one frustrated woman. “Forget it,” retorts a supporting male. “I’m tired of marrying you every night anyway. We never even get to the bedroom!”
It’s a sublime device worthy of Luis Buñuel, which gets even better when the actor who plays Tom, Gil Shepherd (Daniels), is called in to woo Cecilia away from her (formerly) on-screen lover.
An actor playing an actor playing a character, the young-faced Daniels has never been more charming, while Mia Farrow’s naive wife is completely adorable. Together, they make a gorgeous couple, perfectly capturing the enchanting impossibility of their relationship.
And that’s why this movie is so beautiful. Like the imaginary Tom and the depressed Cecilia, everything just fits together.
A witty and heartfelt delight, the 82-minute masterpiece rivals Cinema Paradiso as a love letter to the magic of cinema and is up there with the best portrayals of the fragility of human emotion. Unsurprisingly, like Allen’s Husbands and Wives – an equally poignant look at relationships – it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Sadly, like Husbands and Wives, it didn’t win.
At the heart of it is a very simple, human dilemma: should Cecilia go with the seemingly perfect, but limited, Tom? Or choose the apparently real romance on offer from Gil?
Rather than try to answer that rhetorical question, we’re going to do the sensible thing: stop writing and escape by watching another film.
The Purple Rose of Cairo is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.