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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.26%
Average: 6.3%
Pretty Bad: 4.72%
Total Crap: 3.15%

7 reviews, 85 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Our Destiny Is To Cherish This Film!"
5 stars

Anyone who saw Being John Malkovich should know to expect just about anything when director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann reunite for their follow-up. That film was a fanciful meditation on the individual’s quest to have their fifteen minutes while exploring what brings one towards love and lust. Several praised its originality and its ability to use a fantastical premise to dig deeper into the human foibles of relationships. It’s dark humor and surrealistic structure drew me in and then spit me out when its final act turned into “Cocoon.” Their new concoction, “Adaptation”, however took me on a ride the whole way through, fifteen minutes and then some, and as the third act ended and the credits rolled I walked out and found myself thinking about a fourth, fifth and sixth act. Days after I saw it, I’ve lost count which number I’m on.

The boundaries between reality and fantasy intersect at a crossroads of the minds of these two filmmakers. John Malkovich, obviously a real actor whom we’re all familiar with, was nevertheless playing himself but with a different middle name. Like Robert Zemeckis’ first Back to the Future sequel, Jonze puts us back onto the set of Being John Malkovich where Charlie Kaufmann (as played by Nicolas Cage) is moping about after we’ve been treated to an opening credits voiceover of self-loathing assuring us how “fat, ugly and repulsive” he thinks he is.

Kaufmann is immediately hired to pen the screenplay of Susan Orlean’s novel, “The Orchid Thief”, an expansion of an article that she wrote for the New Yorker about a man named John Laroche who was once convicted of attempting to take the endangered flower from a Florida reserve. Kaufmann has no idea how to write it. “It’s about flowers,” he says and by maintaining any sense of a film’s three-act system has zero headway into how to start the story. Until he decides to write about him writing the screenplay.

What follows of Adaptation’s structure is a jumping back and forward of the time when Orlean (as played by Meryl Streep) was researching the novel during time spent with Laroche himself (as played by Chris Cooper) and Kaufmann’s attempt to translate it into a viable yarn. Kaufmann even has a twin brother, Donald (also played by Cage, who does NOT exist in real life) who lives with him and in his absence of finding a job decides to take up screenwriting like the brother he admires. Donald’s insistence on using the most overused cliches in modern cinema (serial killers and twist endings), partly in thanks to real-life writing seminar guru Robert McKee (as played by Brian Cox), doesn’t exactly mesh with Charlie’s aversion to even hearing words like “pitch” and “structure.”

Adaptation is the kind of film that one could write about all day, but wouldn’t dream of revealing too much for those who haven’t experienced it for themselves. Any writer, whether novelist, screenwriter, or short essayist worth their salt will kneel at the sharp edges of the script, both the paper itself and what’s printed on it. It’s about so many themes and subthemes on top of its themes and motifs that you won’t know where to begin its praise.

You could start with the acting, which ranks up there along with Far from Heaven as perhaps the greatest 1-2-3 punch of the year. Any actor loves to take on a dual role, but it takes a true actor to pull off the layers involved when playing off oneself. Cage’s interpretation of the real Charlie and the fake Donald suggest both a dual existence of the same coin, with a shame and sad admiration that culminates in a beautiful moment in the wilderness when their world, perhaps ready to crash upon them, is brought into perfect perspective. Streep, at first, seems to have the thankless role of playing the straight role to all the craziness going on around her, but brings to Orlean a soul-searching quality that is in many ways the heart of the film. If Cage has the showiest dual role, than Chris Cooper certainly has the showiest singular role as the scruffy, unappealing Laroche. With his front teeth knocked out and a look that translates to shady upon first look, Cooper manages to not only bring a real depth and humanity to this man but also becomes the beacon of lost and new dreams and the ray of hope that the past is the past. You can take what you want and leave the rest behind forever.

If Orchidelirium is the Victorian name for the flower madness experienced by avid collectors, can there be a simpler term for a story about flowers with one man’s attempt to find them and another’s to understand it? A rose by any other name is still a rose said Shakespeare while Orlean states that “being an orchid hunter has always meant pursuing beautiful things in terrible places.” What does it say when Donald Kaufmann, who looks just like his brother with his thinning hairline and belly-full-of-jelly, manages to be a hit with the ladies (even popular actresses) by exuding confidence while Charlie has trouble capturing the right moment to finally kiss the woman he loves (Cara Seymour, in a small but wonderful performance)?

Charlie keeps reading Orlean’s book looking for the answers. Is it about flowers? Is it about him? Is that too narcissistic for his own good? Is he too consumed with his own ideas of how to set himself apart that he has no room for the ideas of others? Is everything in life just like a pre-packaged Hollywood potpourri or do the movies (the good and the bad), as McKee puts, simply reflect the everyday ups-and-downs of our existence in a smaller time frame? If Casablanca was the greatest screenplay ever written, when you can tell me what its about, then you’ll have a greater understanding of Adaptation. “Wow ‘em in the end and you’ll have a hit,” is one of the many things that Cox’s McKee says and just as we’ve been mocking him through the lion’s share of the film’s length, he turns around to make the most sense out of the picture. Who says the answers can’t come from those you least expect it to?

Adaptation is a film that begs you to pay attention to every nook and cranny, yet plays fair with the audience using a (mostly) straight narrative full of humor and passion. Where Being John Malkovich may have been too wacky for its own good, this film uses its twisted nature to work on multiple levels without calling attention to its own cleverness. It doesn’t use gigantic plot twists or hackneyed dream realities to make us shift gears into what we’re watching. Like the dual meaning of its title, we adapt to it naturally and understand the moments when it’s clear where the fictitious Donald gets his share of credit for Adaptation’s screenplay.

Unlike Soderbergh’s adaptation of Solaris, Jonze and Kaufmann give their ideas room to breathe. Discussion and dissection of the film’s plot won’t scrunch our faces with thoughts of “wait a minute, if that was…etc…,” but smiles of joy into how the film worked upon our very perceptions of what movies and life are and expanded our very consciousness into something more than the predetermined final kiss of a romantic comedy. Adaptation does wow us in the end and continues to wow us well afterwards, leaving us hope that we truly are the writers of our own destiny.

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originally posted: 12/13/02 12:18:16
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User Comments

12/10/15 Anne "if they make fun of me it's their problem" 4 stars
2/04/12 GC WOW Hollywood does still have some original ideas...great movie! 4 stars
11/01/11 Nathan Adam Johnson Loved it. Very touching and funny. Great pacing & performances. 5 stars
6/08/11 Simon Admirable nosedive into 'originality' & (un)mutual perspective held back by pretentiousness 4 stars
12/01/10 Barbara Leaf Chris Cooper is one of the best actors around. He had his teeth pulled for this film. 4 stars
1/14/10 Samantha P great dialog and great acting! 5 stars
12/14/09 Anonymous I liked this. It was incredibly original. 4 stars
12/05/08 K. Sear Entertaining, but is a little too on the nose. 4 stars
4/14/08 David Wow, clearly some ppl DONT understand this movie! 2 many weakminded ppl. Great Job Kaufman! 5 stars
3/20/08 gjhghj poop is brown 3 stars
11/13/07 Mads Frandsen WHAT A MOVIE! 5 stars
6/06/07 fools♫gold O yes, you (no, not you) will forget thatthing that embarrasesyoutoday. Like this sentence. 5 stars
3/12/07 mb Stopped watching after 25 min 2 stars
10/11/05 Agent Sands You have to be a writer to fully understand what Kaufman is saying, but anyone can enjoy it 5 stars
10/05/05 Jesse Taylor One of the best movies ever made. Charlie Kaufman is a genius! 5 stars
9/19/05 Indrid Cold Interesting how the profound message of so many "smart" movies is that love is the answer. 4 stars
9/02/05 Naka Strange and beautiful on every level. Kaufman is a genius. 5 stars
8/25/05 sbpat21 genius... 5 stars
8/06/05 Zack Another great Charlie Kaufman film! 5 stars
7/12/05 R.W. Welch Contrary to prevailing opinion, originality is not totally dead. See this pic. 4 stars
4/21/05 chris. important for film, important for idiots 5 stars
11/19/04 Brazilian John Great film. Original, true and competent 5 stars
11/17/04 My Two Cents No reviews I correctly identified the device of the twin brother 5 stars
10/21/04 Pete Richardson Wonderful story that dazzles the heart and the brain 5 stars
9/25/04 Agent Sands As a screenwriter, I can relate to EVERY SINGLE THING that happens to Charlie Kaufman in it 5 stars
9/22/04 Ron Peetoom Hard to imagine but...:even better than ´´Being John Malkovich´´ 5 stars
9/10/04 sebastian blume most original script in years 5 stars
8/16/04 Peter James A love it or hate it film...about a story within a story within a story...amazing 5 stars
8/01/04 Charles Meyerson Thought-provoking, funny and brilliantly acted 5 stars
4/11/04 Wildcarde1 i laughed , i cried...naw i just was bored 2 stars
2/03/04 Jack Bourbon About as funny as I've ever seen. Most unpredictable film ever. 5 stars
1/30/04 yeahboy DoN ur watching too much horror movies lately dat uve 4gotten hw 2 use ur brain 5 stars
1/25/04 Bomolub Perversely twisted and bizarre; blurs movie/reality boundaries wonderfully. 5 stars
1/10/04 Charles Tatum Oh God, I am Charlie Kaufman! 5 stars
12/11/03 Aaron A great film more people need to see. It's a shame movies like Bad Boys 2 make more money. 5 stars
11/23/03 A Williams a very inventive intelligent film 4 stars
10/17/03 Josh Standlee A boring story. I almost fell asleep until the crazy, crazy ending with the psychos. 2 stars
10/12/03 Dark Barøn Speachless. 5 stars
10/11/03 Jinnvisible (Art-twin+sellout-twin)%(Art-film+sellout-ending)=( Art - credibillity) 2over/rated+$$$£££ 3 stars
10/07/03 picky critic Overrated. One of those what-does-it-mean-to-be-human movies,but not terribly insightful. 3 stars
10/02/03 Harris You are what you love, not what loves you. 5 stars
8/14/03 Phil M. Aficionado A wild and daring ride that bends the mind (just enough); superb acting too. 5 stars
8/02/03 Rusell and Donald Liston Great film. The second best of 2002 besides The Pianist. Donald did not understand it. 5 stars
6/27/03 Zaharin Hamid aka The Movie Samseng I fucking love this movie. Spike Jonze is a veteran. Nicolas Cage is awesome. 4 stars
6/25/03 Large Farve My wife chose Just Married over this... My house is shamed... 5 stars
6/24/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik brilliant writing 5 stars
6/18/03 Andrew Callaway Original... intelluctual... Donald is fictional. 4 stars
6/15/03 Flick Chick wonderfully bizarre 5 stars
6/11/03 George Jung If anything else, at least it's original. 4 stars
6/10/03 Jack Bourbon Why does Charlie, and not Donald, get all of the credit for this film? 5 stars
6/06/03 Taylor Fladgate Great actors at their best...what a cast! 4 stars
6/05/03 Erik Van Sant Cage finally makes a good movie! Kaufman and Jonze are a perfect team. 5 stars
5/26/03 mipchunk most definitely the best movie of the year! 5 stars
5/25/03 Jack Sommersby Forced, shallow black comedy piles on the sensationalism and omits the wit. 1 stars
5/21/03 Mickey With A C tedious to watch: black comedy happens suddenly 4 stars
4/17/03 skye chapman BEST MOVIE of the year 5 stars
4/10/03 Jack Bourbon When a movie makes you laugh your ass off simply b/c it shows a gun, it's got to be great. 5 stars
3/30/03 Roy Smith Bizarre but brilliant. 4 stars
3/23/03 Winthrop J Applesmythe III GENIUS! 5 stars
3/22/03 Donald Kaufman WORSHIP ME. 5 stars
3/20/03 Shadaan Felfeli i didn't sit through it ! 3 stars
3/19/03 bob mckenzie a vain attempt by kaufman to usurp BJM success 3 stars
3/06/03 me you arse Jesus anyone who didn't like this movie doesn't have a soul 5 stars
3/04/03 Eschenennock Manville Contorted story-within-story; how much is fact and how much is fiction is anyone's guess. 4 stars
2/14/03 Andrew Carden Good Screenplay, but Weak and Contrived Performances. 3 stars
2/03/03 Kyle Amazing. 5 stars
2/03/03 Titus Very artistic, fascinating in many ways, but also a bit unfufilling and depressing. 4 stars
1/27/03 John Bale Remarkable stream of conciousness that expands the art of Cinema. Cage's top performance. 5 stars
1/22/03 Jen Above average film/Wonderful Cast/Being John Malkovich was better/Adapation was too 8 1/2 4 stars
1/20/03 Sandy G. Only the last 20 minutes were entertaining. 2 stars
1/20/03 Josh One of the best films of 2002. 5 stars
1/19/03 Suzz Imaginative aspects to it but also dull, boring and plodding. Audience was laughless. 2 stars
1/17/03 Angolmois It has moments of great poignancy and some (purposefully) ludicrous crap. Acting is superb. 5 stars
1/14/03 Mark Spivey One of the best movies I've ever seen...the most stirring themes one can imagine 5 stars
1/14/03 Lakeside ecrivain Actors true to complex script. Great industry satire! Haveing fun@audience could backfire 4 stars
1/10/03 Sean HM Must see again...pee your pants funny 5 stars
1/06/03 Caiphn Finally Nicholas Cage proves that he can actually act. 4 stars
1/03/03 Monday Morning What a letdown. 3 stars
12/22/02 James VG Great ride. Complex, but w/o having to ask 'What?'. Interestingly woven timelines/dreams. 4 stars
12/20/02 Wayne Give me a fucking break. What a shit film! 1 stars
12/17/02 steven seagal i'd rather punch my own head in than watch this shit. 1 stars
12/16/02 Reid Blackman An emotionally insightful and sharply intelligent film. 5 stars
12/16/02 Steven J Pretentious failure that shoots itself in the foot by the end. Too artsy for its own good! 2 stars
12/09/02 John Failed satire on Hollywood, endevours to prove it's point by becoming what it parodies. 3 stars
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  06-Dec-2002 (R)



Directed by
  Spike Jonze

Written by
  Charlie Kaufman

  Nicolas Cage
  Meryl Streep
  Chris Cooper
  Brian Cox
  John Cusack
  Judy Greer

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