The Purple Rose of Cairo

  • Review Date: October 17, 2007
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1985
  • Running Time: 84 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Whimsical Woody Allen love note to '30s films.
  • Review Date: October 17, 2007
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1985
  • Running Time: 84 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Tom Baxter is a stalwart movie hero, devised to be courageous, faithful, and polite -- so much so that he even charms some pretty cynical characters. The actor who created Tom, however, turns out to be two-faced. Cecilia, though trapped in a marriage she no longer wants, still chafes at the idea of leaving her husband (though part of this might be her waiflike and unassertive qualities). The 1930s movie characters shown include a somewhat stereotypical black maid.


One fistfight.


Tom Baxter, as a fictitious 1930s Hollywood character, only knows as much about sex as studio censorship permits, and there is much talk of this, especially when he walks into a brothel and gets propositioned, with all kinds of kinky (but non-clinical) suggestions.


"Douchebag," "whorehouse," and "hell" uttered.


Brief references to real-life movies of the 1930s.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters drink and smoke, both in reality and in the movie-within-a-movie (though the fictional ones have to use prop ginger ale).

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.

Parents say

Kids say

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 the 1930s movie industry and its glossy black-and-white make-believe that uplifted the 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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 2, 1985
DVD release date:November 6, 2001
Cast:Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Mia Farrow
Director:Woody Allen
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Run time:84 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:parental guidance

This review of The Purple Rose of Cairo was written by

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Teen, 13 years old Written byamateur_ebert August 21, 2009

A good Woody Allen for tweens

Only Woody Allen could create an idea for a movie like The Purple Rose of Cairo. I say this because Woody Allen is a genius; the plot of Purple Rose was fairly complex, only Allen could have that creativity. The setting and characters were developed very well; by the end I knew who everyone was and where they were going. Performances from Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels were pleasing, but nothing amazing. Though I really did enjoyed Daniels’ dual roles. The story/screenplay was very good, something to be noted. Purple Rose was very good, but at times seemed a wee bit shallow. I did enjoy the movie; it was (most of the time) very compelling.
Parent of a 13 year old Written bycolten97 October 10, 2012

One of Allen's best film to date

Woody's stories are often derivative, but he's forgiven that, usually, because the results are good and ultimately do deserve his signature. For PURPLE ROSE, he swipes Buster Keaton's gimmick in SHERLOCK, JR., then lets his imagination run free as he did in the best of his NEW YORKER stories. We wind up with the most fascinating and realistic meditation regarding what it is to be an audience, a viewer's relationship to art, art's relationship to reality. The triumph is amazing, because, despite the depth of the symbolism, PURPLE ROSE can also be seen as sheer entertainment; on its surface, it is still one of the most entertaining pictures Woody has ever made. Farrow and Aiello are marvelous here; Mia, who is quite underrated, has only been as good once -- in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE. The photography is superb, influenced perhaps by Edward Hopper with generally less obvious light sources. Splendid, splendid work.
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 December 19, 2014

Movie magic until the very end

This title, to those who have seen Allen's film, will know exactly what I mean, and know that I'm not knocking the film, but referring to its...interesting ending. Otherwise, it's a highly original tale by America's most neurotic storyteller about the power the movies can have on you, so much so that Jeff Daniels can walk straight off the screen! Daniels and Mia Farrow are excellent here, Daniels pulling double duty (you'll see), making both characters distinct and a joy to watch, and Farrow's Cecilia is so meek and likable you just want to wrap her up in a hug and give her an unlimited movie pass! Her character does begin to stand up for herself, which ultimately leaves a good message about defending yourself against bullies. The movie has some great meta-lines, since in fact, we are watching Mia Farrow in a movie watch a gets pretty self-referential. "I just met a wonderful man. He's fictional but you can't have everything" is a perfect summation of this movie: clever, adorable and not without its sadness.


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