Adaptation

Dir: Spike Jonze, 2002. Starring: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Comedy.
Adaptation

If you're a fan of Charlie Kaufman you'll find plenty to love and adore about Adaptation, a film written by Kaufman (and oddly credited to him and his non-existent twin brother, Donald) who is behind such films as Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche, New York and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you are not a fan of the larger name celebrities in the film's cast--which would be Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep--and have avoided the work due to them being in it, I'd urge you to see this often overlooked masterpiece where they give their finest and most revealing performances.

Told by way of jumping through a three year time frame, the film surrounds the mystery and truths involving several characters on the brink of self-discovery. Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) is an eclectic but shabby screenwriter trying to grow as an artist and a person. Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) is a writer for The New Yorker who is assigned to write a piece on John Laroche (Chris Cooper), an eccentric agriculturalist on trial with three Seminole natives for removing a series of plants, mostly orchids, from a federal reserve. Her article is expanded into a book, The Orchid Thief, and the publicist (Tilda Swinton) wants to take it further by adapting it into a film. Kaufman is the man given the job, following the success of his script for Being John Malkovich and an ingenius reputation for his craft.

Here we find the bulk of the film's comedy, as the grandeur of those held in high esteem is given the back burner and life is breathed into the honest, oft-hilarious insights and private lives of creative people. (Well, maybe also to the idiot savant.) Cage shines as a man trying to live up to his appointed prestige while combating low-self esteem and disgust with himself. His identical twin brother Donald (also played by Cage), an obnoxious but lovable leech, provides insight and humor as well. Donald not only crashes at Charlie's place, proving to be a most taxing roommate, but he also has taken up screenwriting just like big bro. Charlie's moments of bewilderment and angst when reminded of the fact that he shares the same DNA with a disillusioned buffoon are most entertaining.

The adaptation of the novel grants Charlie a world of trouble. He's decided to attempt something totally unheard of before: make a movie about flowers and how wonderful they are. The only problem is that he not only doesn't know how to write such a film, but in staying true to this goal, blinds himself from the book's subtext and the hidden messages within it.

The jumps within the film are in correlation to Charlie reading the book, giving a visual picture to his daunting task. However, as he begins to understand more about the people being written about (as the book is nonfiction), he realizes there's a lot that he cannot understand. Eventually he comes to realize that he must actually approach these people in order to complete the picture, but doing so brings disastrous consequences.

Cage has had various interesting roles throughout his career and his family (the Coppolas) is definitely a well of wonder so far as talent goes. I wasn't necessarily surprised by his performance, but very much relieved. I was, however, totally taken by surprise regarding Streep. It gets tiresome to see someone constantly being up for and winning Oscars for performances that, quite frankly, don't always seem to merit them. This film is different, as her performance is so open and at times ugly that it's refreshing. Every moment that she's on the screen she's not only believable but relatable, even in the harshest of ways. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) shines as usual, as does the supporting cast, but the leads really do take the cake.

The book featured in the film, its writer and obviously some of the characters involved are all actual people with the circumstances and story blown out of proportion. It makes for a really involving thrill and leaves a bittersweet, but hilarious, perspective on creativity and success. Outside of Kaufman fans, I'd recommend it to anyone who's ever had writer's block, second guessed themselves or simply wondered where they rank in the grand scheme of things.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Nov 12, 2015 12:22pm
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