At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Adaptation “02”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Comedy-Drama/ Stars: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Judy Greer, Bob Yerkes/ Runtime: 115 minutes

In the aftermath of the absolutely wonderful success of the movie known as Being John Malkovich in that long-gone year 1999, the screenwriter of that film, a Mr. Charlie Kaufman found himself brought onboard a new project in the form of adapting a non-fiction book known as The Orchid Thief which was written by a woman named Susan Orlean and turn it into something that could feasibly be brought to the big screen. However, it wasn’t too long before Kaufman began to see that this was one book that was pretty much unadaptable due to the narrative not only being all over the place as well as , but also finding itself absolutely devoid of any definable understandability or foundation. Thus following sometime of attempting in vain to produce some kind of screenplay from this literary work, the script that Kaufman ultimately produced had actually turned into the saga of a writer struggling fruitlessly to bring an unfilmable story to the big screen. Having completed this meta-to-the-max script and sent it with a degree of unease to the people financially responsible for the picture, Kaufman soon found his fears alleviated when the backers loved his script quite a bit. So much so that they not only chose to abort the original idea and make a movie around Kaufman’s screenplay, but they also brought back Spike Jonze who had been at the helm of Being John Malkovich once again to oversee this film’s creation as well.

The result was a film known as Adaptation, and much like Being John Malkovich, this film proved to be just as peculiar, twists a’plenty, and Meta and it managed to garner nearly as much in the way of critical acclaim. Indeed very much in the same vein as the iconic film from 1963 known as 8½, from which Kaufman I am quite certain garnered inspiration from, Adaptation tells the story of its own creation albeit with a few delightfully quirky yet fictional aspects thrown in for enjoyment, and most likely legal, purposes. Yet at the end of the day this is one meta-narrative that, thanks to talented work from both behind and most certainly in front of the camera, manages to, pardon the flower puns, blossom and become a truly worthy addition to your film garden for years to come.

The plot is as follows: (stop me when this sounds familiar) following the immense triumph he had as the screenwriter for a movie known as Being John Malkovich, a man by the name of Charlie Kaufman is brought on board to write a film adaptation of a book known as The Orchid Thief which was an expansion of a New Yorker article about a crazed orchid hunter by the name of John Laroche and written by Miss Susan Orlean. Yet while the highly neurotic Charlie not only finds himself fruitlessly attempting to make the book into a narrative that would work in film whilst also figuring his personal life out, we also see as his twin brother by the name of Donald, a much more relaxed individual, having no such difficulties and even being able to conjure up a phenomenal script that makes for a unique take on the serial killer genre. However the more that Charlie finds himself trying to get something resembling a plot for a movie from the novel, the more that this story and his own personal life start to collide to the point that soon Charlie and Donald both find themselves in the midst of what truly could be called the story of a lifetime…..give or take a creative liberty or 2….

Now even though it is reportedly based on a true story, I definitely feel that you should know that the events that occur in this narrative are also extremely fictional. Yet what is so brilliant about this film is just how the narrative always manages to tiptoe across that very thin line that separates fantasy and reality. Indeed this film’s audience will ingeniously never ever be aware of if what is going on is, in the world of this film, to be genuine or plain and simply a fabrication of Charlie or Donald’s mind. Yet even though the real-life Charlie Kaufman, when this film gets brought up in discussion, quite often gets the majority of the praise for how successful the film is, I feel that we should not overlook the contributions made by director Spike Jonze in the attempt to bring this movie onto the silver screen. Indeed Jonze has always had a distinct style of filmmaking that is both unique and gutsy yet also never provisional of attempting something new just for a movie’s sake even if it’s something that might rattle the cages of a film going audience that is used to nothing more than the typical shtick that has come to define the majority of the movies that are released yearly by the major and minor studios in Hollywood. Indeed had this not been made quite obvious to the film going community following Being John Malkovich then I definitely feel that it was this film which managed to cast any remaining doubt aside. Plus it also doesn’t hurt this winning collaboration that this unique visionary also seems to possess an understanding of Kaufman that few others seem to as well as an idea on what their movies together are trying to convey that is mutually beneficial.

Now as well as a quite ingenious narrative, I also feel that Adaptation also is a wonderful showcase for some of the best performances in a film from the 2000s as within this film we get a truly wonderful yet also diverse group of acting pros all operating at the very peak of their abilities. Indeed in what is one of the best role(s) in his long and quite known film career, Nicolas Cage here is plain and simply terrific in the dual role of twins, and main characters, Charlie and Donald Kaufman, twin brothers whose differences find themselves becoming quite apparent in just how each of them handle the delivery of their respective scripts that they are working on. Indeed as we soon see, Charlie is the kind of writer who is dead set on working around the typical tropes and desiring to build a foundation for a film that does not possess a typical narrative and just wants to write the movie as if it was just about no more and no less than flowers. Donald on the other hand is an individual who is happily clueless to just how unoriginal his writing is, and as such conjures up a clichéd to the hilt psychological thriller by the name of “The 3” that features the unusual yet distinct twist of the fact that the film’s antagonist, his female hostage, and the cop investigating the cast all turn out to be the same individual. However, in a cruel irony, Donald’s cliché-ridden script is regarded as an absolutely iconic and landmark film thus making his exasperated brother feel even more inadequate. Yet even when playing this duo of highly disparate personalities, Cage manages to do a phenomenal and quite funny job. Indeed Cage even manages to provide each of this dynamic duo with their own unique mannerisms as well as personality thus making automatically possible to be able to tell them apart despite their near-close to exactly identical appearance to each other. We also get just as phenomenal work from the always reliable screen presence that is Meryl Streep. Indeed Streep does a phenomenal job at portraying the woman who finds herself being assigned by the New Yorker to investigate further into the case of John Laroche only to actually become just as obsessed as he is with finding the renowned Ghost Orchid with a little caveat. This caveat being that she wants to see it not for fame or fortune like Laroche, but so she can, for once, comprehend just what it’s like to actually feel passion towards something. Indeed Streep has always been a stellar actress and in this it really is no different. Out of the entire cast however, I would definitely argue that it is none other than Chris Cooper who manages to steal the film out from under everyone else. Indeed as the in equal measure mysterious as well as oddly charming Laroche, Cooper does a phenomenal job of giving us a character whose sadness-stricken life has been devoted to the becoming an expert in many out-of-the-way sciences, be it orchid or fish-gathering, only to then push them aside in order to find a new passion even if the legality of such pursuits might not always be on the positive swing of things. Yet even amongst the minor players such as Judy Greer, Brian Cox, Ron Livingston, and Maggie Gyllenhaal there is a such a phenomenal outpouring of talent to be found that I do not think there is a single misfire amongst the cast due to their unity in bringing their A-Game to this truly one-of-a-kind narrative.

All in all Adaptation is a fantastic movie because it first and foremost manages to feel a lot like a dream before anything else. A feat it possesses by being both oddly unreal yet also quite realistic all at once. On the other hand however, it also brings up quite a few head-scratching worthy questions about the concept of writing, what truly is great script writing, and who can make for an excellent film writer. Indeed this is a movie which manages to obliterate the conventional design of a film by restructuring, getting rid of, and even replacing, but also by deciding to do things that a conventional film wouldn’t even try let alone think of trying. Yet even with all of this originality in play, the movie chooses to still be a wonderful oddity in that even though it utilizes that infamous trope known as narration by voice-over in order to flesh out the cast of eclectic characters, and doesn’t employ in any sense of the word normal structure to build the film upon. Yet nevertheless we as an audience find ourselves so intrigued and drawn to the film not only by the dream-like world the film pulls us into, but also because the film is so self-aware of what it is doing that it is able to destroy all story-telling conventions in order to give us something new. Thus when you as an audience member sit down and watch this film you might find yourself feeling and thinking about things you never had before, but trust me when I say that you’ll be glad you discovered them. Who knows? They may come in handy someday…. On a scale of 1-5 I give Adaptation a solid 4 out of 5.