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Directed by Spike Jonze.
Written by Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman (fictional) and Susan Orlean.
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 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 time.)

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 "Office Space"). 

"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, 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 half stars." 

"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 Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09