Picks and Pans Review: The Purple Rose of Cairo

updated 03/04/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/04/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

Anyone looking for a bad word about this Woody Allen film should read no further. The Purple Rose of Cairo is pure enchantment—84 bracing minutes of wit, wisdom and romance. The only thing missing is Woody himself, since he has chosen for the second time (Interiors was the first) to write and direct and leave the acting to others. Like all of Allen's choice work—and this is his choicest since Annie Hall—Purple Rose is deceptively simple. Mia Farrow, flat-out fabulous in a role that fits perfectly, plays a Depression-era waitress in New Jersey with no escape from her abusive husband, Danny Aiello, except at the movies. Director Herbert Ross went over some of this territory with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in 1981's Pennies From Heaven, but Allen doesn't settle for that film's easy cynicism. He admires the Farrow character's pluck and shares her love for those films. In an inspired movie within a movie, Allen and his superb cameraman Gordon (Zelig) Willis create a '30s black-and-white period film (called The Purple Rose of Cairo) that Farrow watches continuously in the darkness of the theater. It's everything that her life is not. The hero, played by Jeff Daniels, is a handsome young adventurer enjoying a madcap Manhattan weekend in the company of sophisticates, hilariously played by Zoe Caldwell, Edward Herrmann, Van Johnson and Deborah Rush. Farrow falls hard for the Daniels character, and when he steps offscreen to claim her, havoc ensues. To say more would spoil the surprise. But Pirandello was rarely this much fun. Special praise must go to Daniels, Debra Winger's jellyfish husband in Terms of Endearment. He earns star status here in a difficult dual role. He is wonderfully endearing as the fictional hero thrust into a real world of power, sex and money for which his rigidly moral Production Code values have hardly prepared him. Daniels also plays the far-from-noble actor who created this hero onscreen, and it's at this inflated ego that Allen aims his sharpest salvos. Within the confines of this charming comedy, Allen is wrestling with matters that concern him most: the heart's propensity to be wounded and art's power to heal. Funny and touching in fresh, unexpected ways, The Purple Rose of Cairo has the scent of an enduring classic. (PG)

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