Monday, May 21, 2012

Adaptation. (2002)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, newly purchased for our collection.

The other day I tried to explain the plot of Adaptation. to a lady at work without giving too much away but still making it sound worth watching and, like, sensible. It's really hard. But here I go again. Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) was given Susan Orlean's (Meryl Streep) nonfiction book The Orchid Thief to adapt into a film, but found the task so difficult he ends up writing himself into his script so that the plot becomes about him writing the screenplay. He makes up a fake twin brother obsessed with writing a psychological crime thriller to offset his own neuroses and uncertainties. Susan Orlean's experiences with idiosyncratic rogue botanist John Laroche (Chris Cooper)- both real and imagined- are sprinkled throughout Charlie's awkward social interactions and frustrated writing attempts.

Fusing real and unreal in an often confusing blend of comedic observation and dark melodrama, Adaptation. is as weird as it is brilliant. Nicolas Cage goes against his own acting instincts to deliver a wonderfully neurotic, self-deprecating performance as possible genius Charlie Kaufman, doubling as his dopey, ever-present made-up twin. This is the movie that Cage naysayers have to admit they like, bemoaning the fact that he doesn't act this well all the time. (As we know I'm cool with Cage when he's being crazy and weird, but this is a nice change of pace nonetheless.) Of course, the fact that he's surrounded by beautiful people like Tilda Swinton and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep and a memorably earnest Chris Cooper helps.

What makes the film so successful is its honest portrayal of writer's block and the perils of creative genius through the process of adaptation. Questions of originality, staying true to one's instincts, and mainstream appeal are handled seriously as well as satirically. Kaufman combines so many genre tropes and narrative devices, but manages to keep the story on track through his focus on, oddly enough, himself, and his own obsession with Susan Orlean. Jonze gives it enough visual oomph and compelling editing tactics to give pacing to Kaufman's somewhat meandering style, which intentionally switches its tone in the equally ludicrous and tragic last act. In his signature way, Kaufman aptly blends the wild with the heartfelt and produces a story as moving as it is darkly comedic. It's great. He's great.


Pair This Movie With: Hmm I'm not sure, I guess more Charlie Kaufman! All the "behind the scenes" stuff for Being John Malkovich put me in the mood for that, while some of the layering of storylines presaged Synecdoche, New York.


  1. ¡Hola! I´m new here. It´s a movie so peculiar that a lot of people may even feel unconfortable watching it. I enjoyed it a lot, in fact, I think it´s one of the last remarkable movies in which I´ve seen Nicolas Cage (along with "Lord of War"). The Kaufman-Jonze team does a good job and the cast it´s great.

    Regards from Spain

  2. Great review! I watched this movie for the first time years ago and just plain didn't get it/didn't have the patience for it. Then I rewatched it again last year (for a film class) and couldn't figure out why I'd avoided it in the first place. Once you realize it's one of those movies that make fun of movies, it's an impressively complex movie, not to mention just hilarious with Cage's social awkwardness and his narration skills.

  3. I recently used this movie as an example that Nicolas Cage can, in fact, be in a great film. Was this his last?