Director: Spike Jonze
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
The first half an hour of Adaptation where the film sets itself up with meta humour, a frantic energy and a freshness, is fantastic. Not knowing anything about this film when you watch it is the best way (so come back once you have), because when you realise that Charlie Kaufman has written a screenplay that is part adaptation of The Orchid Thief and part re-telling of the journey of how he adapted the same book, its mind blowing. Right from the opening scene, after a long monologue with no visuals, it’s captivating. It’s strange and quirky in a way that only Kaufman can achieve.
Sadly, his script about writer’s block and not knowing how to write the script we are watching, overstays its welcome. The concept is neat at the beginning but starts to walk very close to the edges of pretentiousness and the ending just nose-dives into crazy. By that point, the film has been dragged out for so long it doesn’t really matter, because at least the credits are rolling. That first half hour though is genius, it’s just a shame there isn’t enough to carry a 2-hour film. There is a lot of repetition, and we all get it, you have writer’s block.
Nicolas Cage gives an incredible performance worthy on the Oscar nomination that he received. He would go on to lose it to the equally excellent Adrian Brody for The Pianist. Regardless, Cage gives a performance that is one of the highlights of his glorious career. He plays not only a fictional version of Charlie Kaufman, but also his completely fictional twin brother. You can always tell which brother is which, just by the way he speaks and carries himself. It’s a spectacular performance that keeps you captivated long after the plot fizzles out. Meryl Streep, as always, is fantastic as well in the limited role that she had. For the most part she isn’t a focus, but when she’s on screen her performance takes command.
This is a film about obsession, addiction, and imposter syndrome. In a semi-autobiographical tale exploring Kaufman trying to expand and grow as a writer and move beyond Being John Malkovich we see his ideas of elitism and knowing tackled by the seminar held by Robert McKee, played by a very shouty Brian Cox (Manhunter). We see a lot of self-doubt and Kaufman comparing himself to bigger money makers, especially dark thrillers that were popular at the time. Kaufman becomes obsessed with Susan Orlean, the author of the book, to the point that he stalks her. The film is semi-autobiographical but exaggerated enough that it’s fiction. It works well as a character study, but it is messy in its presentation.
Adaptation is one of Cage’s best performances to date. He is absolutely fantastic and deserves all the praise he got at the time and since. The script is original and entertaining, it just isn’t enough for the full film. It’s still an interesting film and the first half hour is great enough to warrant watching.