Saturday movie review: 'The Purple Rose of Cairo'

We all need a little cinematherapy sometimes. Movies are much like comfort food, and today's movie review is of my all-time favorite comfort movie: THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO.

The Purple Rose of Cairo poster

Though I have numerous movies I turn to when I need a lift or a cry or to rage against the machine, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO is the one I most often pull from the DVD shelf to ease my frazzled mind and lift my sunken spirit.

The Woody Allen confection is a movie within a movie, highlighting all that's magical about films and their ability to take viewers away from their troubles and off to enchanted places. Worlds populated by beautiful and witty characters. The romance! The drama! The spectacle and champagne.

And — let's get a little real here — the nostalgia and melancholy of being seduced by celluloid, unrealistic realms.

THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO tells the story of Cecilia (Mia Farrow), an unhappy housewife at the height of the Depression. Her husband Monk (Danny Aiello) is a brute, and her life is drab and depressing. Cecilia regularly seeks solace and magic at The Jewel, the local movie house, where she sits in the dark, swooning and smiling at the romantic exploits of the extravagant stars on the big screen.

During The Jewel's run of "The Purple Rose of Cairo," Cecilia has a particularly bad week and ends up attending several showings of the film. In the midst of her fifth viewing, one of the characters — Tom Baxter as played by Jeff Daniels playing Gil Shepherd (stick with me, you'll see) — decides he simply must meet the lovely repeat movie goer, and he steps out of the film and into reality to do just that.


From the moment I hear the first notes of "Cheek to Cheek" in the opening credits, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO relieves my stress, takes me away with Cecilia to a fantasy world that exists right alongside reality. Her reality.

Cecilia is sweet and sad, baby-faced Jeff Daniels (he was just 30!) romantic... and imaginary... and so unexpectedly funny to me. "I deliberately played him with a cheerful bravado," fictional Gil Shepherd (Daniels) states with matter-of-fact pride of his film-within-the-film movie character. That naive cheerfulness of Baxter/Shepherd delights me to no end no matter how many times I watch the movie — and I can't count how many times that's been.

The extravagance and cheer (and clever dialogue) that offset the doom and gloom of the depression era just may be the reason I return to THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO any time I need a little fantasy to offset my reality.

Just like ooey-gooey macaroni and cheese comforts me despite it being so darn bad for the body, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO comforts me despite it actually having a fair share of heartbreak and sadness in it. Perhaps it's the repetition and reassurance of the sentimental film playing out exactly the same way each and every time I view it. Which, of course, is exactly how any movie is. But the magic of THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO makes me consider that maybe — just maybe — this time I might catch one of the characters doing something a little bit different, perhaps doing a double-take at the viewer. Yet each time, the film remains the same, proves reliably consistent.

Such consistency is comforting. As one of the viewers of "The Purple Rose of Cairo" run amok within THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO says: "I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week; otherwise what's life all about anyway?" Exactly.

THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (rated PG and released in theaters in 1985) is available on DVD. Take a break from reality and watch it!

Today's question:

What are your comfort movies?