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Adaptation (2002)

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, more...
Director: Spike Jonze, Spike Jonze
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Genre: Drama, Black Comedy
Running Time: 115 min.
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, French
    see additional details...

The creative team behind Being John Malkovich -- director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman -- return with this equally offbeat comedy, in which Kaufman himself becomes the leading character. Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is a gifted but profoundly neurotic screenwriter who, after the success of Being John Malkovich, has been hired to write a script adapted from the nonfiction book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. But while Charlie is obsessive about his work, he's also intensely paranoid, given to deep depression, socially inept, and terrified of talking to women, qualities which are making it difficult to get on with his work or hold on to his tenuous relationship with girlfriend Amelia (Cara Seymour). Meanwhile, Charlie's identical twin brother, Donald Kaufman (also played by Cage), has shown up to move in with his brother. Emotionally, Donald is Charlie's polar opposite -- a loudmouthed, over-confident, superficial party animal who has an easy way with the ladies. Donald has decided to follow his brother's footsteps and take up screenwriting as well, but embracing the dictates of screenwriting tutor Robert McKee (Brian Cox), he's cranking out a cliché-ridden serial-killer thriller when not busy making time with new girlfriend Caroline (Maggie Gyllenhaal). As Donald blazes through his screenplay, Charlie slowly picks away at his story, in which author Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) chronicles John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a scruffy but devoted plant enthusiast who tries to save rare species of orchids by stealing them from their natural home in the swamps of Florida. As John and Susan become better acquainted, they find themselves attracted to one another; similarly, Charlie finds himself increasingly fascinated with Susan, and finds himself falling in love with her, even though he's only seen her photo on the dust jacket of her book. Charlie arranges to meet Susan, but is too nervous to confront her face to face, so he sends Donald (who has just scored a seven-figure deal for his script) in his place, while he attends a screenwriting seminar held by McKee. Adaptation also features Tilda Swinton, Judy Greer, and Stephen Tobolowsky. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Note: This DVD is available in Superbit format only.

You might also enjoy:
Human Nature
More inventive wackiness from the mind of Charlie Kaufman

Barton Fink
The Coen Brothers' surrealist look at the maddening life of a screenwriter

GreenCine Member Reviews

Survival of the Factual by RJones3 October 7, 2007 - 6:06 PM PDT
The title is a pun on the term from evolutionary biology. It applies social Darwinism to the act of making a literary work suitable for the big screen, appropriate wordplay in the cutthroat world of Hollywood. Perhaps that is why the death of Charlie Kaufman's twin brother Donald is reduced to an episode in Charlie's attempt to write a screenplay based on Susan Orlean's book. Donald, who is safely fictitious as the more natural talent, reveres his brother as the family genius. In the end, it is survival of the factual. Whether you regard this movie as self-indulgent and narcissistic or refreshingly funny will depend on your tolerance for elaborate hoaxes. Opinion is widely divided. The movie is self-reflective as a story about writing a story, where some of the characters are from real life, others are fictitious, and still others play themselves. One does not play a joke of this sort on the film industry without being pretty well established in the industry to begin with. The joke, for this reason, can be annoyingly self-congratulatory or amusingly esoteric, again depending on your viewpoint. One point needs to be made about the central character, brilliantly acted by Nicholas Cage. Charlie is a hopeless neurotic, which is often thought to be characteristic of genius. Actually, for every symptomatic genius there are countless neurotics whose inability to get out of their heads, as the movie puts it, makes them merely tiresome and pathetic. Judging from the schlock ending that Charlie comes up with for his adaptation, he probably falls into the latter category.

a great and reflective film by JRogers April 29, 2005 - 3:12 PM PDT
3 out of 5 members found this review helpful
This is a great film, with a storyline that can leave you contemplating for days and days. Unfortunately, you might also be thinking a lot about those really-real car crashes too. This film is about a screenwriter who wants to create a non-Hollywood screenplay based on a book about a man and his orchids, but the screenwriter's efforts are complicated by his own frustration, self-loathing and insecurities, and combined with pressure from his agents. He watches his life go by while trying to create a story that is authentic and doesn't sell-out - while his twin brother works successfully on a thriller that is so thrilling it will be impossible to film. All of his efforts, and the reflective storyline of the film itself, come to a head - and he succumbs to selling out. The film takes up every aspect that the writer has said he didn't want in his story, and the film "about flowers" gets a Hollywood ending. Everyone who watches this film will get something different out of it, as there is a great deal of ideas and imagery that gives it an organic and mutable storyline. It might go without saying, but Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper are brilliant and perfectly cast.

I get it and I still don't like it... by cramberry February 6, 2005 - 1:55 PM PST
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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GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.19)
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