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|Screening Room Jan/Feb - Page 3|
From there, it's hard to pick out anything resembling a plot, but the rest of the film is set in motion when, out of nowhere, Hoffman receives a MacArthur "genius" grant, which he uses to stage a play based on his life in an enormous warehouse in New York. He invites a small army of actors to play themselves, him, and one another in an endlessly self-reflexive recreation of his life and theirs. Along the way, he enlists a double (Tom Noonan), a new wife (Michelle Williams), an on-and-off-again girlfriend to grow old with (Samantha Morton), and an assistant (Emily Watson) both to play his on-and-off-again girlfriend and keep him somewhat structured. Dianne Wiest shows up as a maid with theatrical aspirations who eventually moves on to direct Hoffman and give fleeting focus to his rambling, emotionally incoherent production.
And so it goes through the various characters' illnesses and deaths and suicides and marriages and divorces, as Hoffman agonizes about making his play "real" and "authentic," trying to relieve his despair over the utter ordinariness of his own life. As the actors go on and on, they must face the myth that the world is an audience that can validate their quest to be the stars of their own lives. Instead, they have to face the less luminous prospect that they're merely, like everyone else, supporting players in each other's lives.
This postmodern movie makes no pretense of trying to tell anything like a conventional story, but it reflects back to us a lot about ourselves, providing a cavalcade of private banalities that we all share but rarely acknowledge. The jumbled crowd scenes and overlapping conversations may seem chaotic, and the interchangeably self-replicating casting bewildering, but the human condition is recognizably poignant and absurd.