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Overall Rating
4.39

Awesome64.57%
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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Adaptation
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by EricDSnider

"Forget John Malkovich; I want to go inside Charlie Kaufman's head."
5 stars

The only confusing thing about "Adaptation" is trying to explain it. Watching it, it's never unclear what's going on. But look how bizarre things get as I try to give a plot summary:

In 1998, Susan Orlean wrote "The Orchid Thief," about a Florida man who was arrested for taking the exotic flowers out of a preserve. Then, Hollywood screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich") was hired to adapt the book into a film. The book, however, is 1) non-fiction and 2) about flowers, so a screen adaptation was an uphill battle.

And so Kaufman gave up on the normal adaptation process and wrote "Adaptation," which is the story of Kaufman trying to adapt "The Orchid Thief." It is a movie about someone trying to write a movie -- and the movie we're watching is the movie he's trying to write.

However, it's also a rather legitimate adaptation of "The Orchid Thief," with Susan Orlean interviewing the man who was arrested, and developing a friendship with him, all of which makes it into the book. The book was as much about Orlean's process of reporting on the man as it was about the man himself -- which means "Adaptation" is a movie about someone writing a movie that is based on a book about someone writing a book. And it's also about flowers.

See what I mean?

The genius of this remarkably clever and funny film is how non-confusing it is to watch. The director is Spike Jonze, who directed Kaufman's "Being John Malkovich" and produced his "Human Nature"; he knows how Kaufman's mind works, and more importantly, he knows how to transfer that mind to the screen.

Kaufman, played in the movie by Nicolas Cage, is a thoroughly neurotic, balding man with a bad case of writer's block. His twin brother, Donald -- who does not exist in real life but is surely the onscreen manifestation of Kaufman's id -- is carefree, getting a lot more women than Charlie does despite having the same shlumpy physical appearance and bad hair.

Charlie is paralyzingly stressed and sweaty at the prospect of adapting "The Orchid Thief"; Donald, meanwhile, is excited about his own screenwriting project, a by-the-numbers serial-killer story with a twist ending that sounds like it will be truly awful when it hits the screen, which of course means it is destined to make $100 million.

Intercut with all of this are flashbacks to a few years earlier, when Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) was writing "The Orchid Thief." She is amazed by her subject, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a toothless redneck who, for all his obvious defects, knows his horticulture and is passionate enough about it to wade through dangerous swamps just to steal a flower.

That passion is what fascinates Orlean, an ordinary middle-aged writer whose own life is rather dull. "I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately," she says in her book.

In a sense, "Adaptation" is about the writing process, which makes it a sure hit among creative types. One of the funniest sequences has Charlie attending a screenwriting seminar by Robert McKee, who really does give seminars in real life, but who is fictionally, vulgarly portrayed here by Brian Cox. McKee is spouting all these "principles" on screenwriting that, in Charlie's mind, will do nothing but make his screenplay generic and Hollywood-ized. That "Adaptation" eventually succumbs to those very tactics, bringing in car chases, guns and last-minute epiphanies, is either its greatest joke or its greatest downfall. (Is it OK to use clichés as long as you acknowledge you're using them?)

But in another way, the film is about human adaptation, learning how to thrive in a world that is often unkind and unhelpful. Charlie sees this in Donald; Susan sees it in John Laroche; these are both characters whom Charlie and Susan would otherwise view as inferior in many ways. Yet they've clearly learned how to adapt, which Charlie and Susan have not.

Nicolas Cage is fantastic as the Kaufman brothers; amazingly, his best scenes are with himself, the twins' rapport bouncing around like the best of the dumb guy/smart guy comedy teams of yesteryear. Meryl Streep is fine, as always, shining in Susan's few showcase scenes (especially one where she's a bit high and talking on the phone).

I see the film's final 30 minutes as a derailing, albeit an intentional one. It's bold to perpetrate a joke your audience may not get, and I admire the risk involved, though I don't necessarily enjoy it. I get the joke; I just don't know how funny I think it is.

But that may be beside the point. The very fact that "Adaptation" can show how a writer begins as an innovator and eventually become commonplace makes it an innovative film itself: Most movies simply start out ordinary and stay that way; this one has the guts to intentionally knock itself off the tracks. Laugh-out-loud funny and endlessly imaginative, it's a treat for viewers who are tired of the same old thing.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6436&reviewer=247
originally posted: 06/30/03 10:48:00
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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
5/15/08 PAUL SHORTT DIABOLIQUAL AND CERTAINLY VERY RESISTABLE 1 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Dec-2002 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Apr-2003


Directed by
  Spike Jonze

Written by
  Charlie Kaufman

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



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