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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Wild and crazy metafilmmaking."
5 stars

Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's "Adaptation" is a snake eating its own tail. That's an expression used in the movie; so is "deus ex machina," which pretty well describes the ending.

Kaufman has written an adaptation of Susan Orlean's nonfiction book The Orchid Thief in which Kaufman writes himself into an adaptation of The Orchid Thief. The movie becomes about writers -- not just Charlie Kaufman, but his fictional twin brother Donald (who goes into screenwriting and has much more of an affinity for movie conventions than Charlie does) and Susan Orlean (who travels to Florida to cover orchid thief John Laroche and gets caught up in his passion for his "work"). These writers -- all writers -- mutate their material according to their own drives and demons. Adaptation is possibly without peer as a study of the act of creation as a shaky, hapless endeavor -- an act of narcissism, in which the writer leaves his fingerprints all over the work until the fingerprints become the work.

The movie's adaptation of The Orchid Thief has very little to do with The Orchid Thief, and the movie's Charlie Kaufman -- pudgy, balding -- is quite unlike the actual Kaufman, a thin man with a thick head of hair. Kaufman's self-deprecating projection of himself -- the blubbery, sweaty geek he may see himself as in dark moments -- is played with annihilating over-the-top misery by Nicolas Cage, who makes high entertainment out of self-loathing. (The performance is the flip side of Cage's work in Leaving Las Vegas.) With the help of ingenious visual effects -- far smoother than those seen in Dead Ringers or even Multiplicity just six years prior -- Cage also plays the twin Donald, a cheerier fellow who looks just like Charlie but doesn't let that stop him. Donald's head is full of Great Ideas for movies -- like The 3, a multiple-personality thriller that sounds just awful enough to be an actual movie. Donald can be taken on a few levels: he's the standard-issue "opposite twin" or "evil twin" (Donald isn't evil, really, but the resentful Charlie may see him as such for his ease with the ladies and his comfort with formula screenwriting); he's the part of Kaufman's brain that nags him to do something more accessible; he's the confident mirror image Kaufman may wish he could turn on and off. The movie is really Being Charlie Kaufman, in which we enter Kaufman's head for two hours.

Why The Orchid Thief? Why Susan Orlean? Charlie, like Kaufman (for the sake of simplicity I will refer to the movie's Charlie Kaufman as Charlie and the real Kaufman as Kaufman), falls in love with Orlean's writing; something about it touches him -- maybe a bit of inchoate sadness (Kaufman has a Native American in the movie commenting that he can see the sadness in Susan's eyes). Meryl Streep plays Susan -- emphatically a not-really-Susan-Orlean -- as a yearning city woman who wishes she could feel passionate about something. Everything is a subject to her, a thing to be written, not an experience to be lived. When she meets John Laroche (Chris Cooper in a happily atypical, slobby redneck performance), she sees what she's been missing. John gets gung-ho about things -- turtles, fish -- and then one day decides to discard them. His current thing is orchids, which he hopes to clone and sell for big money; later his thing will be Internet porn using photos of topless local women. Susan doesn't really have a thing -- she writes about other people's things (like, for instance, female surfers in a magazine article that became the basis for Blue Crush). Charlie, straining to adapt Susan's thing, must feel a kinship, though he shrinks from meeting her. He sexualizes Susan the way she sexualizes John.

Adaptation chugs along on parallel tracks for a while -- the twinning device is all over the movie -- and then rams into an obstacle of its own cheerful making. Crushed by the looming deadline, Charlie acquiesces to Donald's advice and takes a screenwriting seminar with the guru Robert McKee (the burly, powerful Brian Cox, who plays McKee as though he wants to throttle good writing out of his students). The guru's pronouncements work for Donald but not for Charlie, whose very being rebels against cookie-cutter solutions. And then it happens, the make-or-break climax: Donald takes over the writing of Charlie's (or Kaufman's) script, and the movie becomes an essay on the folly of rewriting. Kaufman and Jonze quite intentionally trash their own movie, sending Charlie and Donald off into the swamp to face a gun-toting John and Susan as well as voracious alligators. This is really the only possible ending for such a deconstructionist movie (foreshadowed when Charlie jokingly gives Donald an idea for a thriller called The Deconstructionist). Since the movie creates itself as it goes along, it makes perfect sense that it should destroy itself. By so doing -- in a climax that will disappoint many who hoped for something less conventional -- it effectively trounces everything Donald, McKee, and Hollywood stand for. It has been made without the slightest concern about whether you like it.

Kaufman and Jonze have done it again. Adaptation, like their previous collaboration Being John Malkovich, is a deep toybox of ideas and jokes. It will confound some and inspire others to riff endlessly on its mysteries. It will take its place alongside Barton Fink and Naked Lunch as an off-center comedy about the tangles of a writer's mind (and those films had bizarre, audience-indifferent endings too).

And the movie's title expands in meaning the more you think about it. Writing is a form of life, and life a form of writing: both require improvising, planning, adapting. This comedy about the making and unmaking of itself turns out to have a lot more on its mind.

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originally posted: 12/25/06 14:19:22
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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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