Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo tells a story of two different worlds: reality, as depicted by a depressing New Jersey society of loafers and liars, and fantasy, shown in the titular film-within-a-film, which encases a world of freedom and happy endings. In the end, neither is revealed to be anything more than what it appeared to be, something that mildly bugged me, as I was second-guessing the film and hoped to see an interesting twist. Also, I dislike stories that end unfairly for the heroine.
The film’s style is happy and innocent, in a (no doubt) devilish attempt on the part of Woody to lure the audience into a false sense of security. Because the main character Cecilia, even when fighting her abusive husband, handles the entirety of her experiences with a sense of aplomb, I as an audience member felt that nothing would go seriously wrong in the end, at least for her. Even her husband’s textbook-abusive “I still love you” claims kept him humanized, and not a total monster. (Although maybe that’s darker, on second thought.) Numerous sweet scenes, like the shop in which Cecilia plays her ukulele and Gil sings a ditty, together with every scene that Tom is in, convinced me that the movie overall was pretty innocuous.
Now, I’m okay with sad endings, and even bittersweet ones can be fun, although they’re usually tougher to deal with than completely sad endings. But when I’ve been convinced that a movie will have a decently happy ending, and it pulls the rug out from under me, I can’t help but be awed at its ability to annoy me at the eleventh hour. When Cecilia gets swindled by Gil, it became clear that the movie is pretty static: she’ll always have a terrible life, and will always escape it with fantasies about a life in which freedom – travels to Cairo, swank cities, and singers going on about not caring about tomorrow – will always be available.
My final verdict would be complete annoyance at Woody’s pessimism wrapped in empty happiness if he didn’t characterize everyone so well. No one is a stock character, as even Gil shows remorse on his plane trip at the end, and random moviegoers have different opinions on the events they witness. My favorite scene was when Gil and Tom both react in shock at the possibility that they aren’t the best character in the movie. They’re from opposing worlds, but the same ego slipped into both, a tiny detail that fleshes them out and an example of the redeeming fun of the storyline.