Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:
As ingenious as it was, who else thought Being John Malkovich – conceived by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and Director Spike Jonze – was just a little too wacky for it’s own good? Good. Glad we’re on the same page – now you might appreciate more the charge of reviewing the collaborators equally off the wall follow-up “Adaptation”, infinitely impractical, consistently unique and vastly imaginative.
Like the titular character in the film, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, I hardly know where to start with this piece. Do I warble on about the majestic performances? Applaud the novel plot configuration? Or approve perhaps the fantastical screenplay? Or simply let a credulous audience explore it fresh – the way I did.
I’ll go with the latter if only because saying too much about Adaptation will cheat an audience of the film’s sheer enjoyment. But here’s a rough breakdown: In 1999, following the success of the aforesaid Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman (played flawlessly by Nicolas Cage in the film) was almost instantaneously hired for another screenwriting job. This time he was to adapt Susan Orlean’s (played by Meryl Streep) best-selling novel The Orchid Thief, a widely praised story about a journalist who discovers the true meaning of fervor while chronicling the adventures of a spirited entrepreneur named John Laroche (Chris Cooper). After six months, Kaufmann still couldn’t work out how to write the story as a movie – calling it unbecomingly structured and meditative. But he still liked the source material that Orlean’s novel was based upon. Ultimately disheartened because of the writers’ block he was experiencing; Kaufman eventually came up with a radical approach to penning the film – and astonishingly its author approved. What resulted was a film combining Orlean’s journey with Kaufman’s own experience of penning the screenplay – every deliberation, every exploit, every spur of Kaufman was inserted into the tale.
Sounds wacky, don’t it? It is. But as outlandish and misshapen as it all sounds – it’s also remarkably intellectual. “Adaptation” is an ultimately watertight cross-genre detonation – that’s as funny and astute as it is awe-inspiring.
Nicolas Cage is magnifico as the real-life writer – playing the Hollywood scribe with utter candor. Every imperfection, every slip-up, every discomforting defect that Kaufmann feels he possesses – is on screen. Cage also plays Charlie’s twin, Donald, but plays him fittingly smugger, goofier – in essence, the exact opposite of his fraught brother.
Meryl Streep is also the ideal person to play Orlean. Ironically, Streep ‘would be’ the person a studio would choose to banner a film like The Orchid Thief had it been handled in it’s narrative outline. Chris Cooper, as Laroche, is probably an unanticipated selection – but he gives a natural, many-sided turn.
But the real star of this puzzling masterpiece is Charlie Kaufman himself. Just penning something so original, so ballsy, so ‘different’ earns him points. But Kaufmann also succeeds by structuring his movie right and detailing it from emerald to ruby. Kudos also to director Spike Jonze for appreciating his apparition and letting us all discover it.
“Adaptation” could very well be one of the best films of the year – It truly is a roller coaster ride of pioneering pandemonium, and shouldn’t be missed.
Posted on December 2, 2002 in Reviews by Clint Morris
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