Hey folks, Harry here… Both Moriarty and Mr Beaks have seen ADAPTATION and are set to write reviews that declare it just about earth-shatteringly gob-derned whipperwill brilliant, and I lay here simmering in jealousy, because I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been uga-bugga beating my chest about this one and carving “SEE ADAPTATION” in granite for the past year and a half. My fingers have bled, in an exisstential manner of speaking, over this one. Vern loved it. Vern’s better than both Moriarty and Mr Beaks, because Vern doesn’t fondle octogenarians. Yeah. Here’s Vern… MUST SEE MOVIE!
You fellas will not believe what movie I saw today. It was ADAPTATION, the new picture by Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman starring Nicolas Cage as twin screenwriters hired to write a script about themselves being hired to write a script about flowers. Actually only one of them is hired and he’s not supposed to put himself in the script, it’s just supposed to be about flowers, and then his brother lives in his house and is taking a screenwriting seminar, and he’s better at picking up women. You know, it’s kind of like WES CRAVEN’S NIGHTMARE, only with Nicolas Cage playing fat twins. I don’t know it’s hard to explain it man. You guys already know anyway.
Now the director and writer team here, we all know they did BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, that movie about how there’s a door that if you go into it you go inside John Malkovich’s brain. It’s hard to imagine they could come up with a more bizarre premise for a followup, but this might be it. If you don’t read the internet, let me summarize the real life backstory for you. Basically, Mr. Kaufman was hired to adapt the book _The Orchid Thief_ by Susan Orlean, an expanded New Yorker article about an outlaw horticulturalist stealing endangered orchids from a wildlife preserve. He wanted to stay true to the book but as he worked on it he realized that he had no idea how to turn this sweeping essay about flowers into a compelling movie. After going way past his deadline and feeling that he had to turn in something, he basically flipped out and turned in a script about himself trying to adapt the book into a movie. So it was basically that school assignment where you turn in a paper about you not knowing what to write the paper about. Except that it was really fuckin good, and probaly to Mr. Kaufman’s horror it has now been turned into a real life movie, with Nicolas Cage all padded out, bald and sweaty to play him.
Wait a minute, you do read the internet, that’s what you’re doing right now. Sorry bud skip over that last paragraph.
Anyway fellas you probaly figured this out already, but I am a Writer. An award winning film Writer. So I think I know what the fuck I talk about when I say, “this is a good movie about Writing.” It might remind you a little of that one about the dude in the hotel and then John Goodman tries to kill him so he goes to the beach with a box. But not really. This is an even better movie about writer’s block, or writer’s struggle.
Everyone is a writer, all you gotta do is write something, anything, then you are a writer. You just have to tell yourself “I am a Writer.”
There is alot going on in this movie. On one level, it really is an adaptation of _The Orchid Thief_. Alot of the movie depicts Susan Orlean’s interviews with the orchid burglar Laroche, and the stories he tells her. And then it’s also the story of Charlie Kaufman trying to figure out how in the fuck to write it as a movie without making it corny hollywood trash, and also the story of his problems with relationships, and with facing the people involved in the movie project, including Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean herself. And also it is the story of Susan Orlean’s feeling of emptiness and her struggle to understand how this orchid crook guy could want something so bad, with her wanting something just as bad but just not knowing what exactly it is or how to find out what it is. And somehow this all ends up connecting together – Charlie Kaufman’s troubles in life being one and the same with his troubles in writing, and with her loneliness, and also the story of the orchid thief being the story of him trying to meet the author, and also the communion of man and flower, etc. Also there is Charles Darwin and dinosaurs.
I thought pretty much everything in this movie was dead on, from the directation to the acting to all the other crap. Nicolas Cage is outstanding, never seeming too silly despite his getup, and always convincing as an awkward guy, and as as two separate guys. His best dual role since FACE/OFF. Chris Cooper is great as the orchid robber. Good to see him get a role that’s not the disciplinarian but ultimately supportive dad or some stupid shit like that. I think if I was gonna throw one and only one of these actors an oscar though I’d throw it in the direction of Meryl Streep. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed before but that gal can act pretty good, in my opinion. Kaufman gave her the type of loneliness and yearning he seems to have and Streep gave her dignity. She’s as pathetic as many other Kaufman characters but with more soul.
And this young man who did the direction, I gotta say I am in favor of his work. Maybe his most significant contribution is to portray it all with realism and gravity. I mean on the surface this is just another really, really sad comedy. But he plays it all completely straight. There is an out of the blue real life tragedy, taken from the book, that reminds you that these are real people with real pain. If you didn’t realize it before, you know now that Laroche is not just the comic relief goofball that Susan’s friends see him as. The scene is just devastating, and then later there are more ridiculous things that happen, not taken from real life, but treated with the same gravity. It’s the definition of deadpan. There is very little wackiness in this movie, and no underlining or nudging, and that makes it both funnier and sadder.
As great as the directionist and the cast are though I’m going to go out on a limb and say that really, this is Charlie Kaufman’s movie. I say that mainly because he is the main character, and because the movie is about him writing the movie. Holy shit come to think of it this may be the one that blows a hole through the auteur theory. Just wait until the french find out about this. Anyway I guess it’s pretty obvious to say that this is Kaufman’s most personal work so far, which is saying alot. It’s also his most human because of three different female characters who have more layers to them than the female leads in his previous films. They aren’t cruel like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH’s Maxine and whatsername, and he still ends up in pain. As if he realized on this script that the problems were his, not anybody else’s.
Mr. Kaufman appeared for a Q&A session after the movie, along with Jones and Cage. He did not appear to be bald or sweaty, and he definitely wasn’t fat. He’s not as awkward as in the movie, but you can imagine that that really is how he sees himself. He spent most of the session with his head down in embarassment. And I didn’t get the impression it was from all the dumb questions that were asked. He was admirably tightlipped about what he was trying to do with the movie or which parts were “true,” just pointing out that it was co-written with Donald, which really does explain everything you need to know about the reality of the movie.
Last year I reviewed JAY AND SILENT BOB’S STRIKE BACK (Click Here) right here on The Ain’t It Cool News and I rightfully accused that movie of being the skidmarked bottom of the toilet bowl for modern american comedy. Well on the opposite side of the spectrum is Mr. Kaufman, who plows down all rules of comedy and Hollywood conventional wisdom to create defiantly weird, uncomfortably personal stories that are both moving and hilarious. He does not back away from personal humiliation – in fact he seems to back toward it. He is very observational about the ugliness of human nature, especially his own. He knows that it is okay for a movie to be so sad that it is funny. He has also managed to find directors who are visually inventive and great with actors, which you don’t get in that many comedies anymore.
Most movie writers are enslaved by their expectations of what the industry will allow. Maybe they want to make a movie about a doorway into John Malkovich’s brain but they know there is no way in hell somebody in hollywood would even consider it. Even if they tried to write it, they’d think they had to tone it down a little, make it more commercial if there was gonna be any chance of getting it made. But Charlie Kaufman seems to completely suppress any of those worries. He seems to be so full of self loathing that it drips out his ears, but somehow he still has the confidence or the dumbluck to be able to turn these impossibilities into realities.
In this movie, Kaufman’s outlaw status becomes part of the storyline, with one of those rule bearing screenwriting gurus actually becoming his opponent . The guru represents the formula Hollywoodizing that Kaufman wants to avoid, but in a moment of weakness he attends the seminar searching for answers on how to make an exciting hollywood movie about flowers.
One of the themes of Kaufman’s work is that he really is lost, he doesn’t know what the answer is and doesn’t try to tell you what it is. He doesn’t know what the fuck to do at the beginning, or at the end. In the sorely underrated HUMAN NATURE I don’t think he sides with the clinical, etiquette obsessed Tim Robbins lifestyle or with the naked, hairy, living in the woods with the squirrels Patricia Arquette one. ADAPTATION is the same way, because he doesn’t want to ruin the book by turning it into Hollywood formula, but he doesn’t know how to make a compelling movie about the beauty of flowers either. When Charlie talks about the movie, his ideas are pretentious but in the right spirit. When Donald talks about it his ideas are asinine, but sort of right. So when Charlie’s world starts turning into Donald’s formula thriller, you know it’s ridiculous but you don’t know where else the movie could go.
It’s a brilliant movie, and there are many other aspects I would like to discuss, but nobody reads this shit anyway so I’ll cut it off. By the way did you know that gun control rules, and superman shouldn’t be able to fly in the movie. (just shaking the cages of the talkbackers there). Anyway Harry if you are still out there you gotta see this movie man.
Originally published at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/13863