"Being John Malkovich"
Directed by Spike Jonze.
Written by Charlie Kaufman.
Starring John Cusack, Catherine Keener and Cameron Diaz.
Release Year: 1999
Review Date: 1/20/00
This week, I hit the big 2-5. 25 years of
age is, to some degree, a sign of maturity. As such, I regret not
seeing “Being John Malkovich” until Tuesday night; like my high
school years where everyone had a car except for me, everyone I know
seems to have seen this movie except for moi. And, it takes a
strong mature man to admit that I made a mistake by not seeing it
until now; hell, the National Society of Film Critics named “BJM”
best film of 1999.
So, Kristine “Hot Corner” Hankinson, so
named for having a better arm than most guys on the UVA alumni
softball team while manning third base last summer, covered me for
my birthday movie over at stadium-seated Regal Cinemas in Ballston.
I tell you, when movies are $8 (and you see them every 3-4 days like
I do), you don't turn free away!
Since almost all of you know what this movie
is about if you haven't already seen it, I'll skip right to the
nitty-gritty: this was not, by any long stretch of the imagination,
the best movie of 1999. No, no, no. Obviously, the biggest draw
about this movie is its acknowledged originality and its witty
screenplay—that in some office building in New York City, there's a
portal to another person's mind. I admit first off that the world
created by “BJM”'s writers is quite different than your average,
run-of-the-mill script. Moreover, this movie has some flat-out
hilarious lines, like Charlie Sheen's banter with Malkovich about
Maxine (Catherine Keener): “Hot lesbian witches! How hot is that?”
and Cameron Diaz stuck tied up in a cage: “Honey, I haven't
showered, eaten or brushed my teeth in four days!” I was really
laughing hysterically when the monkey in the cage with Diaz falls
asleep and has that flashback of when his parents were tied up in
the forest, and there are monkey subtitles running across the bottom
of the screen: “Hurry, Elijah!!” Classic.
But, my three biggest problems with the
movie, which bring this movie down to a Matinee (warning: I'm about
to give away certain parts of the plot, so if you haven't seen this
movie and still want to, stop reading here):
1. All three main characters
I admit that I really like John Cusack. I
still think his best movie is “Grosse Point Blank,” which I'm pretty
sure no one saw in the theater but they really missed out. Besides
a couple of really funny scenes (when he gets punched out during his
opening street performance), he is totally wasted and his part
didn't click with me at all. Diaz, who I applaud for playing so
against type in this role, is so whiny and so ridiculous that even
as a fantasy, her role didn't make sense. By the time she is
shooting at keener while running through the portal (and then,
falling back in love with keener by the end of the film!), I started
to question the movie. And, Keener...well, beyond the fact that
(and again, I understand it is fantasy) she just picks up the phone
and five minutes later has an actor's home phone number, I thought
she played the bitch part so well that when she didn't get her
comeuppance at the end of the movie, I was more than a little
disappointed. Conversely, I thought Malkovich was better than in
any other movie he has appeared in. Every time he was on screen, I
was silently giggling as I waited for him to do something. Which
leads to problem #2...
2. Not enough Malkovich
Once we meet Malkovich 45 minutes into the
movie, I wanted to see more of him. I thought he was really funny,
but then there would be another Cusack/Diaz scene. Give me some
scenes of Malkovich cussing out another big-name actor, or Malkovich
going to a nightclub...after the 4th Keener/Malkovich sex scene, I
decided that I was sure I knew what it would be like to have sex
with the guy, so get over it and show me something different! The
subplot with Keener's Maxine looking through Malkovich's eyes to see
Diaz's character was, I thought, the dumbest device of the script.
3. The ending
Admit it: even if you thought this was the
best movie you've seen in years, the ending sucks. Kristine and I
both thought that the screenwriters didn't know what to do when they
realized that they had a cool idea in being Malkovich for a while,
but they had to end the movie. So, having Malkovich become a master
puppeteer, while funny, just seemed to be a convenient segway to end
the film, but then they realized, wait, we've got to get Cusack out
of his head!, and wait, let's have Diaz turn on Cusack, run away
with Keener...and, raise Malkovich's baby! Yeah, that'll work!
No. Ridiculous, and I was really looking for something better.
But, I will admit: even with all of those
things, the first hour of the movie is as good as anything made in
the 90s. I just thought it didn't know what to do with itself after
establishing such a groundbreaking premise. Oh, and one more snide
comment for good measure: I know that movies keep telling me this,
so it must be the truth: there really are no blacks and Latinos in
New York City!
Comments? Drop me a line at
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