Mia Farrow, The Purple Rose of Cairo

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pauline Kael

“Mia Farrow seems just naturally stylized. Weightlessly beautiful, and with a considerable acting technique that she draws upon without the slightest show of effort, she might have been created for the camera. She's both real and unreal--she has a preternatural glowing sweetness…. [Cecilia] works in a diner and finds solace in the pictures that come to the Jewel Theater…. It's the dreamy-souled Cecilia who's the jewel in this movie….

“…. Cecilia, like [Buster] Keaton as that projectionist [in Sherlock, Jr.], isn't very vivid. (If she were, she wouldn't need to make these crossings [into the movie screen.] In her neatly buttoned brown coat, she's a little brown mouse. But she's also self-possessed…. Mia Farrow's role is written so that she's like the frail, big-eyed waifs that Janet Gaynor and Loretta Young used to play, but she has a sturdy, independent side….

‘There's a central piece of miscasting: as Cecilia's husband, Danny Aiello is too heavy and loutish…. You don't want her to have to go home to this bruiser's surplus gut and his thick, Victor McLaglen arms. (Our image of him makes the resolution of the film cruelly harsh.) It's difficult to know how much of the subtext is intentional….

“…. The film is far more Keatonesque than Chaplinesque. Mia Farrow has her plangency, but she's also a hardhead, like Keaton, and with something of his resilience and individuality. (She's the only beauty to have survived Diane Arbus's camera.) But though Woody Allen isn't like Chaplin--he doesn't make you cry--he has a naturally melancholic, depressive quality. It's his view of life; the movie casts a spell, yet at the end it has a bitter tang. It says that sweetness doesn't get you anywhere. And though in acting terms Mia Farrow carries off her Chaplinesque moment of reconciliation to fate, I think it's a mistake. Woody Allen's full vision here could take a less tidy, airier finish--he needed to pull something magical out of a hat….

“…. But it has a small, rapt qualtiy, and I think it's Woody Allen's finest creation. It's scaled to Mia Farrow's cheekbones. And it has a surprising warmth.”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, March 25, 1985

James Wolcott

“In Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo, Mia Farrow is the Poor Little Match Girl of the Depression, a hollow-eyed waif whose bones have been picked clean and bared to the biting cold…. When she's not dodging head shots [from her husband], Cecilia clears tables at a diner, where her daydreaming and jumpy nerves lead to a clatter of broken dishes….

“…. Mia Farrow functions here the way Bernadette Peters functioned in Pennies [from Heaven]: as a guiding vision of virginal purity, a lilac angel who dwells among weeds….

“…. [In the movie-within-the-movie] Delilah, drawing a bath for her stuck-up employer, asks, "Wouldst you be wantin' the big bubbles or the ass's milk.” The hitch is that this romp [ the movie-within-the-movie] has such daffy charm that we feel let down whenever we're dumped back into the Depression with that little rag doll Cecilia. We don't want to stand in the soup lines--we want the big bubbles. But Woody Allen keeps emptying the bath.

“He certainly drains the tub on Mia Farrow, leaving her with nothing but a long, doting close-up. Allen's camera is tense and protective of Farrow in Purple Rose, and there's something creepy about that protectiveness. In his previous film, Broadway Danny Rose, Allen paird Farrow with an Italian vulgarian, played by Nick Apollo Forte; here she is married to a low-life vulgarian… whose snores fill the house. Evelyn Waugh once said of another writer that watching him grasp the English language was like seeing a chimpanzee handle a Sevrés vase, which is what Mia Farrow is in Purple Rose--a delicate vase being pawed by an ape.

“…. [N]early all of the other characters in Cecilia's world are just as doughy and ill-bred…. No, the message is that Cecilia is too fine for this coarse world, too easily beguiled, and without the Wood Man to embrace her (Allen doesn't appear in Purple Rose), she has no kindred spirit to call her own. Farrow looks wonderful, but her characterization is finally too sickly sweet and Victorian. In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen cups her in his palm as if she were a fluff of feathers about to expire. Perhaps if he released her into the air, she would blaze into new, healthy life. Woody Allen bandages Mia Farrow's wing in Purple Rose, and he doesn't let her fly. Or sing.”

James Wolcott
Texas Monthly, March 1985

Steve Vineburg

“Finally, however, these shortcomings don't dampen the film at all, not only because Allen's invention soars through so much of it, but also because it has a soul: Mia Farrow. Allen knew just what he was doing when he entrusted the bulk of her acting in The Purple Rose of Cairo to her: Though she's given lovely performances before this, no previous director has seen in her what Allen clearly sees (and he's right). At first, listening to her brightly colored, run-off-at-the-mouth line readings--sometimes she sounds like a female Woody Allen here--and watching how her face lights up the moment she enters the Jewel, and how she can't wipe off her foolish grin or keep her hands still when she meets her movie star, I thought she was giving the most purely charming comic performance that any actress has since Shelley Duvall in Popeye. That's only half of it, though. Cecilia wears all her emotions right out on her face: Gazing up at the screen, she's an eraptured waif, and when someone breaks her heart, her face blurs, as if tears could erase it. She changes expressions so dramatically and yet so naturally that the long close-ups she takes, especially in the last scene, seem like magical transformations. The delicate intensity of her acting recalls Lillian Gish's--and, really, I can think of no higher compliment.Error! Reference source not found.

“…. The Purple Rose of Cairo has a bittersweet underlayer; the relationship between Cecilia and the movies she fills her head with isn't far from the relationship between the characters in Pennies from Heaven and the songs they sing to give shape to their blocked-up emotions…. Besides, the "magical glow" that Gil ascribes to [Cecilia] transforms even the clichés of a third-rate screen romance; it's her glow that brings Tom down off the screen. That's the meaning of the fairy tale. (It transforms Gil, too, and makes him fall in love with her.) I don't know whether Woody Allen could have found another actress to bring this off. Mia Farrow does; she is sublime.”

Steve Vineburg
April 1985 (publ?)
No Surprises Please, pp ?

Stanley Kauffmann

“…. The cast is good. Farrow is so drastically mousy, abetted by Jeffrey Kurland's clothes, that it underscores the power of her fantasy, her ability to make a dashing screen figure come down into the audience and fall for her….”

Stanley Kauffmann
The New Republic, April 1, 1985

Stephen Schiff

“In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Mia Farrow gawks and stammers and cranes her pipe-cleaner neck. She's doing an impression but of whom? Diane Keaton? Don Knotts? Then it dawns on you. She's Woody Allen, of course, the old, panic-stricken Woody Allen, the one who was so self-disgusted and so maladroit with women that you could never believe it when he finally got the girl. It seemed a sort of fairy-tale convention: the ungainly beast would turn out to be a handsome prince, and everyone would live happily ever after. But Allen's camera won't let Farrow be beastly; his cinematographer, Gordon Willis, makes her heart-shaped face a disk of amber light against the drabs and mud browns of the movie's Depression setting. When she klutzes around, Woody-style, she doesn't look inept; she looks coltish. When she stutters and haws, she's not an urban-neurotic basket case; she's girlish and plucky, and her piping voice is like the young Judy Garland's. In short, Farrow is charming, but not funny--just like the movie….

“Whatever substance The Purple Rose of Cairo has comes from Allen's rueful willingness to face fact. He's an Oscar winner now, the commander in chief of the best table at Elaine's--he can't keep pretending he's the outsider looking in. So in The Purple Rose of Cairo he lets Mia Farrow play the Woody Allen character. This way, the plight of the Jewish misfit becomes the plight of pre-feminist woman, brutalized, not by Gentiles, but by an unfeeling husband, an unfeeling employer, a bankrupt society….

“In a movie full of shapely performances, Daniels's is the shapeliest….”

Stephen Schiff
Vanity Fair, February 1984
[re-check rest of review]

David Denby

“…. Cecilia is a kind of pathetic sociological construct--the Depression-movie fan for whom the pictures have become a substitute for life.

“Forlorn and mousy, Cecilia would be unbearable if played by anyone but Mia Farrow. Beauty counts for a lot in any movie actress, but especially in an actress playing sweet, vulnerable women--roles in which suffering can easily appear glum and drippy. When Farrow was younger--in Rosemary's Baby, say--her eyes seemed to fill her entire face, and even though she was not a great or even an inventive actress, we seemed to be looking straight into her soul. Farrow has never been more waiflike than she is in The Purple Rose of Cairo, but she's older and sadder--her desperation has more strength now. In truth, she's a little too old for the role of Cecilia, but her years work for her--she seems to be aging from lack of attention.

“…. "The Purple Rose of Cairo" [the movie within The Purple Rose of Cairo] is intended, I think, to be rather feeble… Of course, the feebleness is apparent only to us; Cecilia is enthralled by the picture. Woody Allen makes her a pure dumb fan, with no sense of humor about her obsession. He wants to have it both ways--he wants her to be so absorbed in movies she's virtually a candidate for a sick joke, and he wants her to be a heroine too….

“Jeff Daniels… [is] charming here--the perfect, unthreatening bozo. Yet I wish Woody Allen hadn't selected someone so tame… Daniels is charming with Mia Farrow, but they are both so threadbare in manner, so easily pleased with each other, that the scenes don't achieve the giddy magic I was hoping for….

“…. [F]or all its attentiveness to ordinary folk, the movie, in the end, is strikingly callous…. It's as if the director were saying to the movie audience, "You people may have drab lives, but at least you've got the dreams that we talented people have generously given you." It's not the kind of thing a movie director should say, or even imply, out loud.”

David Denby
New York, March 11, 1985

David Thomson

“By now, it is a subject for intense argument and legal dispute as to whether Woody did her good or ill…. She was in most of the films Allen made in the eighties, often as his apparently available female, but just as often in fresh roles. She rose to every acting challenge, though she has not recaptured the piercingly tragic figure she had been for Polanski [in Rosemary's Baby]. Her look of childhood had lasted eerily long. Still, looking like a woman, she has been more ordinary.

“…. excellent as the gangster's moll in Broadway Danny Rose (84); just as good as the usherette in The Purple Rose of Cairo….”

David Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film,
Third Edition (1994), p 233

J. Hoberman

“The Purple Rose of Cairo is only the second feature Allen has directed without appearing in it, and Farrow is clearly his alter ego. She has the Woody Allen lines and whine down to a science. ("You kiss perfectly," Farrow exclaims after being bussed by Baxter. "It's what I've always dreamed kissing could be.") But she's not permitted his bleak sense of humor, and her character soon grows tiresome. A splendid bimbo in Broadway Danny Rose, Mia is here far too dear a waif--so unwordly she makes Lillian Gish seem like a Joan Collins swinger. Farrow is purely a victim, and the bombastic scenes where she's bullied by the hulking Aiello aren't just unfunny, they're actually unpleasant.

“With Farrow thus a vaguely guilt-inducing presence, Allen milks his finest gags out of Baxter's engaging inability to cope with the real world….

“…. There's a sense in which The Purple Rose of Cairo is a tribute to Hollywood--but it's an insincere one at heart. Farrow's reverent expression as she reimmerses herself in a film at fade-out is reminiscent of John Hurt's glazed stupor at the end of 1984. Allen, who if nothing else has redefined the nature of screen stardom to encompass himself, has left his leading lady stranded in Room 101.”

J. Hoberman
Village Voice, March 12, 1985

Molly Haskell

“Mia Farrow, Allen's lady love and star, is her sweet, wistful self, never overwhelming, and Allen seems not only to acknowledge this, but to build the film around it. In the end, as she sits, rapt, watching Rogers and Astaire do one of their three most exalted numbers, Allen emphasizes the ironic contrast between the drabness of the living woman [hm] in color, and the pristine black-and-white print of Top Hat. Farrow seems there to remind us that the stars of today will never, can never have the magic of their predecessors. But why rub it in?”

Molly Haskell
Vogue, date?