Cecilia seeks solace from her dead-end job and boorish husband Monk in the Jewel movie theatre. However, one matinee, Tom Baxter, a character in the RKO programmer The Purple Rose of Cairo, comes through the screen to sweep her away - much to the chagrin of the cast left behind on the screen and the actor who created him, Gil Shepherd.
Five years after depicting film fans as psychotic morons in Stardust Memories, Woody Allen sent them a bittersweet love letter in this fond, if slight memoir of his own lost days in the flickering darkness. Recapturing the simple pleasures that escapism could afford, he also lamented the extent to which films had ceased to matter as they had in the depths of the Depression and the shift from stardom to celebrity that had taken away so much of the romance of movies that were now packaged and sold like any other consumer product.
Allen staged the action in the Coney Island cinema he had frequented as a kid and the small town of Piermont, which still resembled oldtime New Jersey. However, in an ironic twist on the storyline, heavy snows hindered shooting and business premises were forced lay idle behind their film façades until the production wrapped. Allen also had to pause after firing Michael Keaton just 10 days into the schedule, as he was (according to the press release) too contemporary for the dual role of Tom/Gil. Resisting Orion's suggestions that he or Kevin Kline assumed the part, Allen cast Jeff Daniels, although he proved to be much more persuasive as the celluloid figment out of his depth in coarse actuality than he was as the cynical star prepared to do anything to save his career.
Mia Farrow, however, was impeccable as the crushed spirit whose inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality had been diminished by her desperate psychological reliance on inaccessible icons enacting impossibly glamorous scenarios. But while Allen shrewdly eschewed nostalgia by making her environment as rundown as possible, he never quite solved the problem of blending Cecilia's whimsical adventures with the tragedy of her social situation. Thus, while the movie cast are amusingly able to slip out of character and resume being their egotistical selves and Tom/Gil are able to return to their familiar milieu, Cecilia is left only with Fred and Ginger in Top Hat, whose transient sophistication can never replace the dream that has passed forever.
Mia Farrow is note-perfect in this charming little movie.