Worth A Look: 21.26%
Pretty Bad: 4.72%
Total Crap: 3.15%
7 reviews, 85 user ratings
by MP Bartley
God bless originality and God bless Charlie Kaufman. Just when you think you're going to drown in a sea of bipoics, re-makes, updates, pointless teen comedies and horrors, would be epics and timid stage adaptions, along comes not one but two Kaufman scripts to breath fresh hope into a jaded cinema lover. 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' is the other and another review for a different time. 'Adaption' is the other, and further evidence that Kaufman is straying damn close to genius. The fact that 'Adaption' is so damn good, but just misses out on a full five star review is more proof that Kaufman has so much more to delight us with that we should canonise him now.'Adaption' is, well, an adaption. Or at least the process of adaption. Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) is trying to adapt Suzanne Orleans (Meryl Streep) book 'The Orchid Thief' into a screenplay, but is having a nightmare doing.
"A Dizzying trip through Charlie Kaufman's mind. Perhaps too dizzying."
He's having panic attacks, sweating constantly, looking at his podgy stomach and receding hairline in pure self-loathing, not sleeping and spending the nights by generally whacking off. To make matters worse, his twin brother Donald is also attempting to write a screenplay about a serial killer and is gleefully using every cliche he can think off, and having the time of his life doing it.
Meanwhile we flash back three years to see Orleans interview the subject of her book, John Laroche (Chris Cooper) and lose herself in his world of swamps and orchids.
Typically for Kaufman and director it's a loopy, anarchic but beautifully insane choice of topic. True, writers block is a well covered topic but never like this. We don't focus on the early hours of the morning typing sessions, it's about bunking off and getting distracted by muffins. It's about cliches and over-used concepts. It takes an immense lack of ego for Kaufman to portray himself the way he does here. He's alternately panicky, pathetic, a human stomach ulcer just waiting to erupt.
And Cage is simply magnificent. Welcome back Nic, more of these choices and less of the 'Gone In 60 Seconds', and we'll be more happy to reinstate your 'best actor of his generation' label.
He's a hoot as Charlie perfectly capturing the nuances of a frustated writer and even more importantly, the simple impotence of a human being who can't work or even communicate with a girl he's desperately in love with. It's a performance with heart as well as hilarity. He also avoids the cliched route of making his twin brother a simple polar opposite. There's as much character in Donald as there is in Charlie. Perky as a puppy dog, full of boundless energy he clearly adores and respects his brother, yet is totally unaware of the effect his more successful attempts at writing are having on him.
Cage is faultless at balancing the two parts, making you forget you're watching the same character twice, but making you believe you're simply watching two brothers. The interplay between them is frequently bust a gut funny, particularly when Donald is explaining his ghastly story "It's machines against horses!". But then there's also some soul baring between them leading to one of the most genuinely honest and emotional conversations I've seen between two characters in a long time.
It would be hard to match up to Cage here but Cooper just about manages it. With greasy pony-tail and teeth like tombstones, he also gives a performance to match the appearance. He makes Laroche a captivating presence, and not just a hill-billy cliche, giving him real emotion and a backstory that rings true (look out for the scene where he explains losing his teeth), and avoiding the potential pitfall of making him an oddity to just look at and not feel for.
If one character falls by the wayside, it's Streep. Check my 'The Hours' review for how irritating and lazy she can be, but at least here she tries. It's just that next to Cage and Cooper there's barely any room to make an impact. Having said that, a scene in her hotel room where she finally achieves happiness is one of the sweetest scenes in the movie.
Ron Livingston as Kaufman's Agent makes an inspired appearance, as do Brian Cox as writing expert Robert McKee, John Cusack, John Malkovich and Katherine Keener on the set of 'Being John Malkovich'. It's testament to Kaufman that this doesn't come as a colossal folly, and praise to Jonze for keeping everything while far from normal, accessible, to the audience.
It would be easy for a screenplay about writing a screenplay to fall back on jokes that would appeal solely to writers but Kaufman casts his eye wide and delivers a script that at times is pure gold, and works for anyone who's had to suffer fools or just felt lost in their work or life. For anyone who's had to put up with an irrittating brother through gritted teeth or simply been unable to express their feelings. And sometimes it just settles for a good old wanking joke.
But it falls short of 'Being John Malkovich' genius. For the climax it feels like Kaufman and Jonze let their grip falter and the subtlety now becomes obvious. Of course it's arguable that this is what they intended, but occasionally clever can be a bit too clever-clever for it's own good. It hardly ruins the film, but the climax is likely to leave some people lost, cheated or both.
It's a climax that for once, falls into depending on peoples knowledge of screenplays and what Charlie has been trying to avoid all along. As a climax it's a let-down and as a final joke it's punchline feels flat.But despite this wobble, 'Adaption' is a hugely entertaining, thoughtful and just damn funny. The actors show the rabble in 'Chicago' for example just what an ensemble piece can be, with Cage and Cooper shining in particular. If this is Kaufman not getting it quite right, just imagine what he'll do when he does. The final blip is forgiveable because I'd take one Charlie Kaufman over a hundred Akiva Goldsman's. And you should too.
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originally posted: 03/19/03 01:20:57