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Adaptation (2002)

"I can't believe we married Elvis Presley's daughter without a pre-nup--are we insane?"


Nicolas Cage
Meryl Streep
Chris Cooper

Released By:

Columbia Tri-Star

Released In:




Reviewed By:

Adam Mast



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Director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman are first class nut jobs. I mean that as a compliment, for their new picture Adaptation is a spectacularly creative entertainment, much more so than their previous collaboration Being John Malkovich.

Nicolas Cage seamlessly carries off a wonderful dual performance as twin brother screenwriters Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Charlie struggles to adapt a novel called The Orchid Thief (no, I've never read it) while energetic Donald has absolutely no problem hashing out a generic actioneer that Hollywood Producers seem to instantly fall in love with.

We are also given a story within a story, as we meet the characters within the novel that Charlie is adapting. They are wonderfully played by Meryl Streep and the amazing Chris Cooper.

Adaptation plays as a sort of metaphor for writer's block, and while similar subject matter was displayed more brilliantly in the Coen Brothers' vastly underrated Barton Fink, Kaufman and Jonze have fashioned a compelling tale about what it's like to be a writer.

After penning Being John Malkovich, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was at a loss as to what he should tackle next--so he decided to use this quandary to his advantage. Adaptation is an intimate, in depth look into the world of screenwriting, not only giving a satirical glimpse into the world of big studios, but a look into the mind of the writer himself. Kaufman isn't afraid to poke fun at his own insecurities as a writer either. How literally this eccentric character is actually based on himself is beyond me, but it makes for great entertainment. In Adaptation, Kaufman even gives us insight into the making of Being John Malkovich adding to this odd, creative achievement.

Jonze's direction is extremely innovative and very unpredictable, and thankfully, Adaptation never feels self-conscious despite it's "inside joke" approach.

There have been complaints about the detour that the final act of this picture takes. It's certainly open to interpretation (some say the final act of the film is directly from The Orchid Thief) and while I was a tad underwhelmed by it, I feel like Jonze and Kaufman have given themselves total license to go wherever the hell they want with this movie because of it's subject matter. I did not like the direction that Kaufman ultimately took Being John Malkovich. That stuff with the elderly people was just silly to me, and because of it, the movie as a whole, was a let down. The abrupt, change of pace in Adaptation by contrast seems more acceptable because this is essentially a story about imagination and writer's block.

While certainly flawed, Adaptation is more often brilliant than not, and I greatly admire it for it's innovation and willingness to attempt something fresh and exciting. Originality is not easy to come by in movies these days. In an age of processed blockbusters, Adaptation earns high marks for attempting something truly novel.

:: zBoneman.com Reader Comments ::



Adaptation is the best film that you'll ever give a B+ to. If you're not one of those ending-haters, what's not to love? Next to Leaving Las Vegas this is Cage's best performance and he masturbates all the way through it. Can you not see the beauty in that - the balls? (so to speak). This was a daring film all the way around and Chris Cooper's performance should go in the time capsule. B+? Come on dude - this was the most fresh and lively film of the year. Change your grade, man. Maybe it was a typo? B+?



Charlie Kaufman has made his fortune in Hollywood by writing strange and odd screenplays like Being John Malcovich. He is also an odd individual that many might find crazy as he is constantly arguing with himself over his own ideas and ways to make them possible. Living with him is his twin brother Donald who is the polar opposite of Charlie as he is more outgoing and seems better able to get the woman. Charlie has trouble there as well as he can never seem to say what he means around women and is always at a lost when trying to talk to them. He has created his own fantasy world to make up for these problems though. Charlie has been recruited to write a new screenplay about a book called the Orchid Thief about an oddball character that is a botanist that is trying to steal the most rare of Orchids the Ghost. Susan Orlean is fascinated by him and decides to write a story about him for the New Yorker magazine that is later published into a book. She finds herself drawn into this oddball man who collects things and seems to be able to drop these loves at a hat and find a new love. He is full of new and surprising things and while Susan is entranced by him, Charlie is entranced by Susan and her story of him.

This movie is myopic kaleidoscope of one story after another. It is a movie within a movie in a dazzling way that confounds you, amazes you, and enthralls you. I was absolutely fascinated and drawn in by this story, which at times makes absolutely no sense. At times you think of the tow character that Cage plays as alter egos and at other times as two separate people. And the lines that allow you to discern which is which is almost impossible at times. Charlie is a hopeless individual who is looking for that hope while his brother is the exact opposite, as he seems to have found what he is looking for. Nicolas Cage does a magnificent job of acting, as he is funny, serious, and dramatic all at the same time. He even finds time to make fun of his own advancing age, receding hairline and pudgy appearance. A lot of the scenes will make you laugh out loud at their quirky and weird nature. If the movie is to be faulted it is that at times the story and plot gets so convoluted you are not sure where you are going or coming from. Also the movie can be offensive at times in a funny way and not so funny ways. So if you are a person with sensibilities this may not be the movie for you as at times it can go off on such a tangent to be crude. Still the movie was fascinating and quirky in a way that you so rarely see.

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