Directed by Spike Jonze.
Written by Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman (fictional) and Susan
Starring Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper.
Release Year: 2002
Review Date: 1/14/03
My friend Toby asked me Thursday night, “Hey
man, you wanna see ‘Adaptation’?” I said, “Hey man, I like movies,
so shit, I’ll hang out!” And, we did. Afterwards, he also
described the film better than I could—“What a smug little film!”
See, he was talking about all of the ironic,
higher-than-thou references in the film to Kaufman’s first
collaboration with director Spike Jonze,
“Being John Malkovich.” In
“Adaptation.”, we skip all over the place chronologically as we
follow Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), a screenwriter that got his
big break on “Malkovich” in real life, try to make sense of an
orchid novel by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), also a real-life
author. So, we watch Cage as the film’s writer trying to make sense
of the real-life author’s source material as he deals with twin
brother Donald (also played by Cage)—who may or may not exist in
real life—and all of it just gets to be a bit much. The writer’s
ramblings are included all over the film in voice-over, as the shy,
nervous Kaufman stumbles in his attempts to deal with women,
pressure and his ever-worsening situation to get the screenplay of
the orchid novel completed in time.
It’s an interesting project, even if it
feels a little stuffy because the film’s writer made himself the
star. Cage is getting back to what makes him one of the most
versatile actors out there, as he throws his “Con Air” stylings into
a trash can and goes back to being consumed by a role (actually, two
roles here). The performances by Streep and especially Chris Cooper
as a flower expert that is “the smartest guy [he] knows” are
incredible and Ron Livingston (“Office Space”, playing Kaufman’s
sex-addicted agent) and Brian Cox give hilarious, one-note, profane
supporting performances. The direction by Jonze is quite good, and
the script by Kaufman is at points pretty funny...it was just
disarming for me that Kaufman put so much Kaufman into the part.
And, by implying that his script for “Being John Malkovich” was so
good just rubbed me as egotistical. (I gave that film a Matinee
when it came out, and I still think that Catherine Keener was the
most undeserving Best Supporting Actress candidate in quite some
But, the ideas in “Adaptation.” around all
things orchid is quite interesting, and as a writer-in-training, I
identified with a lot of what Kaufman was going through as he stared
at the blank page. His constant rewarding of his efforts in one
scene—where he tries to get down one paragraph so that he can reward
himself with a coffee and a muffin—had me thinking about some of the
essays that I have written where I just think, “If I can get the
first joke down, I’ll take a break and play video games.” So
accurate. Orlean’s concern over her lack of passion in life also
hit home for me, and the harrowing sequence featuring some family
members of the Cooper character is truly eye-opening.
Good stuff, and worthy of a good
conversation afterwards, if anything just to figure out what the
hell happens in this film!
Rating: $9.50 Show
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Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard