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Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman
Producers: Edward Saxon, Vincent Landay, Jonathan Demme
Nicolas Cage
Meryl Streep
Chris Cooper
Real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, played in this film by Nicolas Cage, is given the task of adapting a novel entitled “The Orchid Thief”, written by real-life author Susan Orlean and played in this film by Meryl Streep, into a Hollywood screenplay. Struggling to make it work, Kaufman spends most of his time complaining about his own worthlessness and helping his brother, and fellow screenwriter, Donald (also the co-screenwriter of this film, along with Charlie), manage his more “by the numbers” screenplay. Oh and incidentally, Donald isn’t actually a real person…he’s only a figment of Charlie’s imagination…in real life. Got all that? Didn’t think so…hehehe.
The words “strange” and “unique” are probably the best words that one can use to describe this film in the most simplistic of terms, but the truth of the matter is that this movie is anything but simplistic, melding real characters into screen characters into book characters into actors, to create one of the most surreal motion picture experiences since…well, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone since the writer of this movie, Charlie Kaufman, and director, Spike Jonze, are the same nutty chaps behind that oddball flick. In fact, ADAPTATION starts off with a behind-the-scenes scene from that very film, since Nicolas Cage’s character actually plays the real-life screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, in this movie. Alright, I’m starting to confuse even myself, so forget about the plot details (all of which are extremely well-handled if you pay close attention), and know at least this much about the movie: it’s very funny, it’s got a message, it’s dark, it’s not for your mall audiences, it’s a little pretentious and self-indulgent at times (but it literally admits to it…so that makes it okay?), it’s extremely self-referential and creative in plot design, it features two top-notch acting performances from Nicolas Cage, as well as a handful of other interesting characters (Brian Cox is especially hilarious!) and it actually manages to make sense of a whole lot of intertwining neuroses, all of which come together in the end for a compelling and dare I suggest…Hollywood-ian conclusion?

Having said that, the film does run a little long, the lead character is as neurotic as they come (and perhaps even annoying to some), and the plotline is, to say the least, convoluted and over-stroked with industry jargon. Having said that…much of those little boogers didn’t bother me all that much. The film’s utter uniqueness, its masterful ability to bring together human struggles, its inventive structure, its many pokes at itself and its impressive way of keeping one interested throughout, was more than enough to score it high above the majority of rehashes that I’ve been chewing through this past year. Add that to a number of very funny one-liners, especially from Chris Cooper and Nicholas Cage’s less intelligent twin brother, many very cool cameos, specifically from the cast of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and two of the most visceral car crashes that I’ve ever witnessed on screen, and there’s plenty more ammunition which might suggest that this very original screenplay might…once again, tag screenwriter Charlie Kaufman with a nod for Best Screenplay at this year’s Oscars. You also gotta admire the dude for truly putting his own shite out there…I mean, I lost count of the number of times he referred to himself as a loser, fat or bald and ugly in this film. Now either he’s a really confident screenwriter who’s smart enough to connect with an audience’s most primal sensibilities, or he’s a true neurotic, a la Woody Allen, who smokes a lot of funny cigarettes and writes extremely bizarre screenplays which miraculously, seem to make sense? Spike Jonze should also be commended for lasso-ing in such a multi-layered script, along with his cast, all of whom bring a little extra juice to the proceedings, especially Cage, who is not afraid to take chances, look stupid and backtrack to his acting roots…pre-Bruckheimer.

By the way, try not to think too hard about how much of this movie is “real” (since most of it did actually stem from Charlie’s real-life attempt at adapting the novel “The Orchid Thief” into a movie, etc…), because you will likely trip out on the varying connotations of that ride alone. In the end, the message of the film is about life…about discovering one’s passion for it, for love, for the love of oneself and for the life that many of us take for granted (at least, that’s what I got out of it). There are some deeper elements at work as well, and various intertwining connections which you may care to interpret or not. In fact, once again, it’s one of those movies, much like P.T. Anderson’s most recent foray into the world of the strange, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, that will likely divide audiences, with some spitting on it for being over-the-top, pretentious, self-indulgent and redundant, while others, like myself, will appreciate its satirical look at Hollywood, its undertones, its style, its acting, its sheer originality, its refreshing middle finger at the “screenwriting” establishment and its overall ability to entertain!

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian




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