A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that a lot of the movie deals with an innocent, fictional character, from a Golden Age Hollywood film (with morality dictated by studio censorship) suddenly faced with the real world, where people don't fight fair, where despair and unemployment and prostitution exist, and where sex is more than just a fadeout -- resulting in some innuendo-laden dialogue. Adultery is a large part of the plot, with Tom beseeching the married heroine to leave her loutish husband for him.
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What's the story?
To escape her terrible marriage to an unemployed jerk (Danny Aiello), unassertive waitress Cecilia (Mia Farrow) frequents the movie theater to watch Hollywood movies. She particularly loves "The Purple Rose of Cairo," and sees it repeatedly -- so much that eventually the romantic lead character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) notices Cecilia. He falls in love with her, and steps out of the movie, leaving his baffled castmates unable to move the plot forward. Cecilia tours Tom around the real world, where things aren't always fair and sex isn't an abstract, unseen concept. Meanwhile, Tom's defection panics movie-industry executives, who fear other fictional characters will start coming to life and roaming around. They summon the actor who portrayed Tom, Gil Shepard (Daniels again), to find and bring his unruly creation under control. Gil also winds up romancing Cecilia, urging her to leave her husband for him.
Is it any good?
Woody Allen's whimsical tale seems like a valentine -- with some doubts -- to 1930s movies and their glossy black-and-white make-believe that uplifted downtrodden, Depression-era audiences. Grown-ups can take this breezy comedy as both a tribute to and a cautionary tale of women who love movies too much. Kids can enjoy it as one the many fish-out-of-water plots, in which a fantasy-film archetype must deal with the 20th-century real world. And Woody Allen fans will get their fill of his clever dialogue, tinged with existential angst and uncertainty around the edges.
The gimmicky premise pays off in a number of very funny scenes, but there's also a wistful quality about the film, its sepia-toned settings, and an ending twist that puts into sharp focus the idea that true love and happy endings exist more often in movies than in real life. Younger viewers, especially those not into the time period, might be restless that the farce here is more about dialogue, relationships, and concepts than special effects and action.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many layers of the comedy here, and the depiction of Depression-era movies (that filmmaker Woody Allen obviously cherishes) as a form of escape from dismal reality. How might this plot have worked out today? What would you have done in Cecilia's place, faced with Prince Charming suitors in both the imaginary and the actual world? Is Tom Baxter right to equate his scriptwriter with God? Do you think the film ultimately makes a positive statement or a negative one about Hollywood and its ways?
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