The Film That Got Away: The Purple Rose of Cairo


By: Christian DiMartino

Title: The Purple Rose of Cairo

Genre: Romantic Comedy, Fantasy

Release Date: March 1, 1985

Film Rating: PG

Leads: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Dianne Wiest

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Before controversial filmmaker Woody Allen won his fourth Oscar for his charming and enchanting screenplay for Midnight in Paris back in 2011, there was only one other time when Allen experimented with fantasy. That film is 1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo, an original, funny, and magical romantic comedy which displays what Allen is best at. Allen is the master when it comes to romantic comedies, and The Purple Rose of Cairo is Allen at his near best.

Mia Farrow, Allen’s one time partner and muse, plays Cecelia, a lonely woman stuck in a dead marriage living in Depression era New York. After a series of unfortunate events, she ends up doing the one thing that makes her happy: Going to see The Purple Rose of Cairo, a film that she truly loves. She mainly loves it for the film’s main character, a goofy guy named Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels).

Not only does she see it once; she sits there and watches it over and over again. Until one day, something unexplainable and unexpected happens: Tom begins speaking to her. Then, he steps out of the screen, and Tom and Cecelia run off together, causing two worlds to collide, and nothing but happiness with a hint of chaos.

As a viewer, the film is a little difficult to adjust to. Like Midnight in Paris, the unexplained magic may leave some skeptical and wanting to give up. I too questioned what I was seeing, but I hung on. I am sure glad that I did. This is a wonderful movie from start to finish.

The acting is just one of its many qualities. Having seen Daniels in movies like Dumb and Dumber, it did not seem possible for something like this to be pulled off. But he nails this role. He is wonderful in the dual role of both the naïve movie character and Gil Shepard, the actor that plays Tom. Farrow does a fine job, but this is mainly Daniel’s show.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is a funny and delightfully enchanting romantic comedy that is an example of the romantic comedy genre in top form. Allen really put his heart into this one, and the unique story is just something that cannot be ignored. What can be ignored is the fact that the magic involved is not explained. To enjoy this movie, throw caution to the wind and just go with it. It seems like a romantic fantasy, but in the end, it is nothing more than a slice of life.

Most Woody Allen fans would say that their favorite of his movies would be something like his 1977 best picture winner Annie Hall or 1979 Manhattan. But he begs to differ. His personal favorite is 2005’s Match Point, followed by this one. I could not agree more.

Match Point is his best movie, with this movie right behind it. His career is a blend of light and dark. The Purple Rose of Cairo is as light as it gets. It is his most wonderful movie of all.

The Purple Rose of Cairo received only one Oscar nomination, and that was for Best Original Screenplay. It did not win. Can screenplays get more original? Where was the love for Jeff Daniels, or the movie itself? This is one of those rare Woody Allen gems that you cannot find anywhere, and that is why it is one that got away.

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