Adaptation (2002)

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Original, meta and heart-achingly funny, this Charlie Kaufman spiral into writing madness is pitched so brilliantly even I perhaps shouldn’t use the word pitched. It’s crazy at times, always smart and layered and pangs with an emotional current of regrets and thought processes.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman; yes the real wiz behind ‘Being John Malkovich’ is taken by a book titled ‘The Orchid Thief’. Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) wants to do something different and Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) writing entrances him but also frustrates him as he struggles to structure a script. To make it worse his brother Donald (Nicholas Cage again) is following script bible measures and McKee rules to finish a script before Charlie. This isn’t even covering the story we see of Orlean spending time with real orchid thief John Laroche (Chris Cooper) to fill out her story.

As the above and probably poorly written plot summary above demonstrates, this movie is layered and flits between different stories yet every point and every character feels fleshed out and there’s comedy to be found at nearly every crossroads. The characters are fantastic and the whole split screen trick to get Cage in twice never looks hammy, in fact Cage makes Donald and Charlie seem alive that you forget it’s Cage both times. The whole flower angle is an interesting path in itself as Kaufman himself says; there’s never been a film about flowers! This movie is less about that though then the tough tangle of love and pain in writing and romance which is utterly believable and clever.

Charlie Kaufman, the real one this time, is brilliant and this film demonstrates that. After a madcap idea with stepping into Malkovich’s mind, he returned to conjure up a meta idea on writing processes and what the writer goes through, so much so that voice-overs even comment on him going back to write as he goes back to write. This film is scripted so well, even in the stranger more typical Hollywood moments like car crashes and swamp hideouts, there’s always an absurd Kaufman twang to goings on.

Spike Jonze returns to direct and because of this resuming of the pair, we get a couple of fun moments where we see Charlie on the set of ‘Being John Malkovich’ either being unrecognised or left to stare as John Cusack and Malkovich do their thing. This backstage inclusion adds another layer of intrigue and reality to this barmy feature as we begin out journey into connecting to Charlie and following his turmoil in not knowing how to write a draft for this flower/porn/drug book by Orlean. Jonze directs with a detail as if knowing how to best capture Kaufman’s surreal tone and along with the birth of time we get unique qualities to the film that hover on anger, love, laughs and experiments of writing itself.

Nicholas Cage, both times, is a treat to watch, his staring eyes or widened grin aren’t the typical prominence as he retreats for a more engaging duo performance. Charlie is sweaty and stressed, his eagerness to write tainted by the fear of doing something new and that his brother following rules is doing more than him. Donald is laid-back, goofy yet smooth and the delivery of his lines about what he’s including in his thriller idea are done so comically. Meryl Streep gives Streep for the beginning as we see Susan Orlean as a normal author but then in the perhaps messier third act, she becomes more funny and deranged as she teams up with John. Chris Cooper manages to make a toothless villain less than that, he has brains, a tangible back-story and a comic touch as he makes his way into Charlie’s story, a deserved Oscar win I must say.

Adaptation does survive in life and even for non-writers I’m sure the dizzying brilliance of the mad structure is more than enough to entertain. Performances and screenplay are both accomplished and different making this movie an unpredictable fun trip.

8/10

 

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