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cramberry's reviews view profile

I get it and I still don't like it...  
on February 6, 2005 - 1:55 PM PST
  of Adaptation (2002)
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful

Adaptation is an eccentric, neurotic movie that should have been great, and while absolutely worth watching, fails to satisfy the appetite it whets. It's got an ambitious, thought-provoking premise, solid writing and fantastic performances. Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper are marvelous, playing their complex and likeable characters with real respect. Nicolas Cage does a virtuoso job of acting opposite himself and fully realizes each of the twin Kaufman brothers as a distinct individual, helped in no small part, I'm sure, by the skill with which these characters were written. The script is wonderfully weird, and in keeping with screenwriting-guru character McKee's tenth principle of screenwriting, respectful of the audience's capacity to unpack a complicated narrative. Unfortunately, the twists and turns Kaufman introduces obfuscate the lack of a real center, and this fact is not changed or ameliorated by the fact that Kaufman and his characters acknowledge it.

Calling attention to a thing's weaknesses doesn't make those qualities go away; saying something is uninteresting doesn't change that fact. The self-reflexive, pre-emptive strikes Kaufman makes against himself, comprising the bulk of the first two thirds of the film, are initially pretty funny but eventually feel self-indulgent, repetitive and even tedious. Kaufman's self-loathing is so intense that it's tremendously difficult to sympathize with his character, despite the rich potential to identify with him, and since this poisonous self-view is the frame through which we watch the rest of the film, the viewer's whole experience is tinged with subtle ugliness. I expect that this is intentional, and while I certainly get it, I really didn't like it.

Abrupt plot turns and odd narrative shifts form the framework upon which the characters and broader ideas are draped, and are ultimately not so much clever as precocious, predictable and unsurprising. The only real surprises come in the form of incidental graphic violence when, near the end of the film, the story veers off into the land of Hollywood cliche, resulting from Donald and McKee's influence on Charlie. This is supposed to be ironic - the film follows the advice of the veteran screenwriter to give the audience a spectacular ending - but once you get it (hey look, irony!) it persists in lumbering on clumsily and laboriously to a misanthropic, violent and hollow ending. As Mike D has famously remarked about the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, "It's like when you make a parody and then you become the parody."

I'm not saying the film's not smart, and I'm certainly not suggesting that Kaufman's not a good writer. It's just that the question of what is "real" and what is fiction, and the analysis of texts, meta-texts and subtexts are part of an incredibly fascinating territory that has been explored with far greater success by many artists, including Kaufman himself, and when an artist is as good as he is, one is inclined to hold the work up to closer scrutiny. The real irony is that because Kaufman invites us to participate in his construction, we feel it more acutely when it collapses.

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