Friday, May 4, 2012

#627. Adaptation (2002)

Directed By: Spike Jonze

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Tag line: "From the creator of Being John Malkovich, comes the story about the creator of Being John Malkovich"

Trivia:  Nicolas Cage's brother, New York radio personality Marc Coppola, often stood in for one of the Kaufman brothers during the shooting of the movie

In Adaptation, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman concocts a story in which he himself is the main character. Fresh off the success of Being John Malkovich, the eternally nervous Kaufman (played here by Nicolas Cage) is hired to adapt the best-selling novel, The Orchid Thief, for the big screen. Written by columnist Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), The Orchid Thief is a real-life account of one John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a strong-willed individual who's made a career out of illegally harvesting rare orchids from the swamps of South Florida. As you might imagine, adapting this particular book is no walk in the park, and Kaufman struggles with it on a daily basis. To add insult to injury, his twin brother, Donald (also played by Cage), who has no writing experience whatsoever, pens a screenplay of his own and sells it to Hollywood for a boatload of cash!

Adaptation follows two separate stories: the anxious, somewhat nebbish Kaufman and his troubles adapting The Orchid Thief, and the relationship that develops between Susan Orlean and John Laroche. On paper, these two narratives may seem dry and uninteresting, yet director Spike Jonze gets things hopping pretty quickly by way of frantic pacing, bizarre situations, and one of the most realistic car crashes I've ever seen in a film. With Kaufman and Jonze in control, you can be sure Adaptation won't come within a hundred yards of predictability.

And then, all at once, everything changes. The style, the tone, the relationships...everything! It's like the second half of Adaptation belongs to a completely different film.

The catalyst for this change is Charlie Kaufman’s own originality as a writer. When Donald announces he's signed up for a screenwriting seminar hosted by world famous instructor, Robert McKee (Brian Cox), Charlie advises against it, telling his brother there’s nothing to be gained from such gatherings except how to recycle tired old story lines. For Charlie, great writing is all about originality, which can't be taught at a seminar. But Donald goes anyway, and the screenplay he writes as a result of McKee's teachings is purchased for six digits by a major Hollywood studio. So, battered and beaten by The Orchid Thief, Charlie breaks down and attends McKee's lecture himself. From that moment on, Adaptation veers sharply off-course, as Kaufman “crosses over” to McKee’s way of thinking.

To provide specific details on the changes that take place in Adaptation wouldn't be fair; events get so wild and out of control that the slightest hint might spoil them. Yet even when nestled in the bosom of formula and convention, Charlie Kaufman’s unique voice still rings out loud and clear.


Sam Turner said...

I've never been able to stand Adaptation. Know I'm in the minority but I just find it a mite too smug, too satisfied with its own ideas. I probably need to stop moaning about it and just go and watch it again, to give it another chance.

SJHoneywell said...

Too funny. I'm watching this right now.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Film Intel: I'm sure you're not alone in your feelings about ADAPTATION. I know at least one reviewer couldn't stand what he termed the film's "smugness". Personally, I didn't find it so, but I can see where you're coming from. Thanks for the comment!

SJHoneywell: Cool! Was this your first viewing? If not, did it hold up for you?