Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is commissioned to adapt Susan Orleans’ (Meryl Streep) meandering non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief, to a screenplay, but he is overcome by his insecurities and can't get started. He asks his sweet but simple, identical twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage) for help, who suggests he enrols in industry-famous Robert McKee's (Brian Cox) screenwriting workshop. In the meantime, Susan ventures on a journey of self-discovery with the eccentric and troubled subject of her book, orchid lover John Laroche (Chris Cooper).
Review by Louise Keller:
A bizarre story about obsession, Adaptation turns the concept of writer and story upside down, as the screenwriter finds himself trapped in the pages of his screenplay. If you thought ducking under the five foot ceiling of the 7 ½ floor was weird in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, or indeed clamouring into a portal in Malkovich’s head, wait until you meet Charlie Kaufman, the self-loathing, insecure script writer who attacks an acute case of writer’s block by writing himself into the storyline. Real life and fantasy are again merged, with the spotlight this time shining on Kaufman, who also penned Being John Malkovich. It’s weird and at times brilliant with extraordinary moments, despite the entire premise bordering on total self-indulgence. The beginning is inspired, taking us back momentarily onto the set with a roomful of John Malkoviches. It’s a clever device to introduce us to Kaufman and put him into context. Confused? Of course you are! But don’t worry, it only gets worse, as we go on an inventive and marvellously manic brain-hopping spree. We get into Kaufman’s brain, who in turn is getting into Susan’s (author of book he is adapting) brain, who is getting into John Laroche’s (crazy-about-orchids) brain. And to top it off, Charlie and his identical twin are opposites in every way except physically. Charlie is a mess. Obsessive, apprehensive, intelligent but falling apart, he sweats incessantly as he worries about everything. By contrast, Donald is a little slow and oblivious to everything with a gung-ho happy-go-lucky attitude. Structurally, Adaptation is literally off the wall: we flit in time like a hyperactive arrow, zig-zagging from the present to staggered times zones in the past. The film’s inherent craziness sort of grows on you, and I imagine this is the kind of film that director David Lynch probably relates to. I really enjoyed Charlie’s pursuit of murder, mayhem and madness, to add the ‘WOW’ factor to the ending of his screenplay. As for the screenwriting workshop – it is a blast. By the time we are on a chase in murky swamps in the middle of the night, pursued by a man with a gun, we are totally absorbed in the bowels of the madness. What an extraordinary performance by the ever-versatile Chris Cooper: his bewitching John with the missing front-teeth is mesmerising and repulsive all at once. A great cast all round - Nicolas Cage, wonderful as the twins, Meryl Streep marvellous and Tilda Swinton splendid. Underneath the craziness of it all, there is a moral to the story, but you will have to see it to discover it for yourself. While it may not have the complete and utter brilliance of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation offers plenty of opportunities for innovation and mental gymnastics.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Adaptation is without doubt the edgiest movie of the year, and the less you know about it the better. Stop reading now, unless you’ve seen the film. Not only does the story follow the crumpled life of Charlie Kaufman, script writer, as he attempts a book adaptation, it displays a crumpled Nicolas Cage whose adaptation into Charlie Kaufman (and his twin borther) is no less extraordinary than the story itself. He morphs into the bald, overweight and self-loathing Charlie like a dry page getting wet. Cage’s performance suspends disbelief for the entire film. And it’s a mesmerising, gritty film of contemporary sensibilities. Written like a screech of writer’s pain from the bowels of the filmmaking beast, Adaptation does not set out to ridicule Hollywood, though, and is more concerned with the private damnation of the creative struggle – and all its quirky, multi-headed vipers. Tantalisingly combining elements that suggest documentary and drama all at once, the film keeps us off balance. But Cage is not alone: Chris Cooper is sensational as the toothless orchid thief, and Meryl Streep does her best work here. The settings, from swamp to seedy rooms all reek of reality – and it occurs to me that this is perhaps the closest and best we have to a ‘reality movie’ – and it’s a galaxy ahead of so called ‘reality television’. Made with bravado and suffused with anti-vanity, Adaptation will scar your ideas of script writing like the thorn of a big, wild, red rose.
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ADAPTATION (MA - drug use, adult theme)
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Cara Seymour, Rheagan Wallace
PRODUCER: Jonathan Demme, Vincent Landay, Edward Saxon
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
SCRIPT: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman (Susan Orlean – book)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lance Acord
EDITOR: Eric Zumbrunnen
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: K.K. Barrett
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2002