Review: Adaptation.

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

During a masturbation sequence 40 minutes into this spectacular motion picture (I know, that sounds weird), the entire last row of the theater left. My point is, if you don’t like different, abnormal movies, DO NOT see Adaptation. However, if you are up for a wild ride, that will take you into the creative process, blur the line between reality and fiction, and even find a way to put irony in quotation marks, see this movie right now. In short, Adaptation is the wackiest movie to come across the theater this year, and also one of the best.

Screenwriter Charlie Kauffman proved his brilliance in 1999 with a little masterpiece known as Being John Malkovich. Since then, he has really tried to adapt Susan Orlena's novel "The Orchid Thief," but to no avail. Finally, he wrote himself into the screenplay, then crafted the screenplay around himself writing the screenplay. True creativness. After seeing this movie, I went out and I bought "The Orchid Thief." The book is exactly as Kauffman describes it in the movie, it is truly fascinating, however it really is unadaptable. "The Orchid Thief" is a series of anicdotes revolving around people who loves orchids. Read the book if you love orchids, watch the movie if you like inventivness and couldn't give a damn about orchids.

With a screenplay as intricate as this one, having a good tagline is crucial, and Adaptation comes through. The tagline does a better job describing the movie as I possibly could imagine. The tagline is the following: “Charlie Kaufman writes the way he lives... With Great Difficulty. His Twin Brother Donald Lives the way he writes... with foolish abandon. Susan writes about life... But can't live it. John's life is a book... Waiting to be adapted. One story... Four Lives... A million ways it can end.”

The movie flips back and forth between 3 time periods, and three characters. John Laroche, an orchid thief, and perhaps one of the most brash characters in the last few years. Susan Orlean, a writer at the New Yorker, who becomes fascinated by John Laroche’s exploits in Florida, and writes a book on him. Finally, Charlie Kaufman, a self-loathing screenwriter, is having a very hard time adapting Orlean’s book, which is mostly metaphors, and all about flowers. Along side Charlie, is his twin brother Donald. Donald is living on the floor at his brother’s home, and he decides to try his hand at screenwriter, and succeeds.

The thing I relished about Adaptation was director Spike Jonze deft hand when it comes to interweaving story lines and time. It was certainly a head trip, the way these stories all started in different places, then inched toward the point where they all come together. Most importantly, though, I was never confused as to when, how, or why something was happening. Spike Jonze has been a major player in the directing of commercials world, however, its a shame that this is only his second motion picture director credit, as his skills are noticable.

When I critique a bad movie, I point out its flaws to make my point as to why I think that particular movie was bad. Writing a critique of a good film though, can prove to be much more tricky. I must ask myself “Why? Why was this movie good?” and sometimes that question can be very difficult to answer. Such is the case with Adaptation. After much reflection, I have decided that the reason Adaptation is such a success is because of the creativeness of this script! Whether you love this movie or you hate it, you have to admire its inventiveness. Everything from the reality/fiction twist, to the way drama is mixed in with the comedy is all new to film. The creativity is most obvious during the final 15 minutes of the adventure that is Adaptation. Going back to the movie’s tagline for a moment, “...a million ways to end it” is the ending phrase at the conclusion of it. Well, the ending is probably the millionth and one ending that could have been imagined. It was inevitable that these three characters would meet at the climax, but in the way it happens, it makes irony ironic. There are no words to describe the final 15 minutes. Unlike a lot of critics, I enjoyed these final minutes. Its brilliance is such because the final 15 minutes represent a culmination of what might happen had this been a big budget, mainstream movie...just the type of movie Charlie Kaufman was adament in NOT creating. Told you it was ironic!

I remember back to One Hour Photo, and the haunting factoids and quotes that were pointed out in narrative. Those were very effective in creating a mood for that movie. In Adaptation, narrative is a driving force of the film, and occasionally during the narrative, profound quotes from The Orchid Thief are read, that make Adaptation quite poignant. Its through this narrative that another major idea of the movie is developed: passion. The passions of Susan Orlean, John Laroche, and Charlie Kaufman is the real focus of this movie.

On top of the script, (which I believe I have praised enough), Adaptation is a character movie. This film couldn’t work if it didn’t have strong, screen stealing characters, real or fake. And it does. Charlie Kaufman, Susan Orlean, and John Laroche, (not to mention Donald Kaufman, who becomes important at the end of the movie), are all fascinating. Each character could sustain an entire movie on their own. Its important to keep in mind that these three characters are all real! (Not Donald, though.) It is unknown whether they are as fascinating as they are made out to be in the film. Going hand and hand with the well-written characters are the fantastic performances. So fantastic that all three actors, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper, all have Golden Globe nominations. I have never been a fan of Nicolas Cage, but his noteworthy performance as both Charlie and Donald is wonderful. In the supporting roles of Streep and Cooper, I will have to give the edge to Cooper. While both are excellent, Cooper gets the better “scene-chewer” character, however, do not let that diminish the performance of Meryl Streep.

The problem with December is that all the films are usually very good, and I get tired of using words like “great,” “superlative,” and “excellent.” But with Adaptation, I can’t say them enough. Adaptation is truly refreshing to see, while it may turn a lot of people off, no one can deny the creativity and originality in Adaptation. Which is something that Hollywood is lacking.

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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