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 ADAPTATION (2002) 

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CAST
Nicolas Cage
Meryl Streep
Chris Cooper
Cara Seymour
Tilda Swinton
Litefoot
Jay Tavare
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Brian Cox
Ron Livingston
Roger Willie
Jim Beaver
Stephen Tobolowsky

DIRECTED BY
Spike Jonze

PURCHASE


DVD



DVD



Novel




Time: 114 mins.
Rating: R
Official Website
Genre: Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Cooper). Nominations for Best Actor (Cage), Best Supporting Actress (Streep) and Adapted Screenplay.


Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze strike again with this wacky, intense, funny and disturbing cinema treat. Without a doubt, it's one of the most original pieces of film I've seen in a very long time. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, their first pairing, is an equally wild and unique ride; however, I found this film to have a deeper and more complete story. The origins of the story are so simple, yet devastatingly clever. Plus, it must happen all the time. The plot centers on a screenwriter (Kaufman himself, played by Cage) hired to adapt a popular novel into a film. The only problem is that the book is about orchids and has no discernible story, no action and only two characters. This situation must be every screenwriters worst nightmare and has probably happened to every single one of them over their careers. So, what starts out as a fairly intriguing story of writer's block, becomes a startlingly typical "Hollywood"-flick full of drugs, death, love, mayhem and redemption. Yet it evolves in a way that's an utter and total surprise.

This is where Kaufman's cheekiness comes in. The film version of himself can't dream up a way to make flowers fascinating to the cinema audience. However, he certainly finds a way to make the life of a schlubby, neurotic screenwriter overwhelmingly compelling. The story begins on the set of his last picture, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, where Charlie (Cage) finds himself to be more of a nuisance than an important player. He tries to be upbeat about his latest project, adapting the well-received novel "The Orchid Thief," but is plagued by anxiety about his talent. His identical twin brother Donald (also played by Cage), unfettered by angst, sets out to make his own mark on Hollywood. After taking a screenwriting seminar taught by the infamous Robert McKee, Donald quickly develops the beginnings of a formulaic thriller that leaves Charlie reeling with disgust and envy. His brother is clearly unhampered by logic or the need to comply with even the most basic script conventions. Though he seeks Charlie's approval, Donald is comfortable with his role as the less talented brother and is able to enjoy his life in ways Charlie only dreams about.



"You are what you love, not what loves you. That's what I decided a long time ago."

The fast pace of Donald's writing only spurs more issues for Charlie. After coming at the novel from every conceivable angle, he's convinced there's no way to make this story into an interesting movie. Susan Orlean's emotional journey touches his soul in such a way that he feels he must stay true to her tale, yet he senses that she's hiding something. The "Orchid Thief", John Laroche (Cooper), is a compelling and unique person/character, but nothing really comes of their meetings, at least that's what Susan leads her readers to believe. All they do is talk about orchids and the power their unique beauty holds over some people. Donald finally convinces Charlie to go to New York and talk to her. It's the only way Charlie will be able to get started. Once there, he is stymied yet again by his own neuroses and becomes so desperate he even attends the McKee seminar that sparked Donald's writing spree. He eventually reaches out to Donald, begging him to join him in New York, where things begin to go completely out of control.

Posing as Charlie, Donald finally meets Susan and becomes convinced there's more to her story than she's letting on. Much to Charlie's dismay, they end up following her to Miami where she meets up with Laroche, though she claimed to Donald she hadn't seen him since she wrote the article. What happens next you really have to see to believe. The film takes quite a few twists and turns that even I never saw coming. The true relationship between Susan and Laroche is exposed in a darkly funny manner that goes from wacky to outrageous in 10 seconds flat. Believe me, you've never seen Meryl quite like this. The brothers quickly find themselves up to their armpits in trouble with seemingly no chance to escape the personal hell they've stumbled into. Eventually, what Charlie discovers in the middle of the Florida swamp is a new outlook on life and a deep appreciation for his seemingly simple-minded and unflappable brother. Donald's views about himself and his place in the world are achingly simple and beautiful, much like the elusive orchid everyone is searching for. In the end, Charlie conquers his fears about life, his talent and his future.

If you've seen BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, then you're at least somewhat prepared for the emotional roller coaster ride created here by Kaufman and Jonze. I knew what I was in for and was still knocked off my feet by the intensity that careens off the screen. I don't need to see any of the other Best Actor nominees. Nothing could beat this double performance by Cage. He is truly brilliant, bringing these vastly different brothers beautifully to life. There is never any doubt who is who, each persona cleverly defined by subtle mannerisms all his own. He is absolutely convincing in the many scenes where the brother are in the same space together. If you didn't know better you'd swear there really were two of him. Cooper and Streep also deserve all the kudos they're getting. Even with his front teeth missing and long, greasy hair Cooper manages to make Laroche an intriguing and sexy human being. The story of how he actually lost his teeth will stick with you for days. Streep finally gets to let her hair down and play someone controlled by the darker side of life. I'm not sure I completely believed her transformation, but it sure was a treat to watch. Jonze brings his unique visual style to the table, making this simple tale of writer's block arresting in the extreme. There are images I'm still unable to get out of my head and it's been several weeks since I've seen this film. If you're open to a tale more than a little different in the telling, ADAPTATION is a must see. Hands down one of the best films of the year and a completely new look at the trials and tribulations of trying to make it in Hollywood.


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