Director: Spike Jonze
Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean and John Malkovich
Before becoming well known for his acclaimed oddball drama/comedies that bend the world in strange ways, Charlie Kaufman wanted to write a story about a man who fell in love with someone who wasn’t his wife. Wanting it to be different he added some strange and unique elements that he found entertaining, an office space on floor 7 ½, the main character being a puppeteer and most strange of all, the office space has a small door that leads to a portal that lets anyone who passes through it enter John Malkovich’s brain. Early workings of the story didn’t mention Malkovich at all.
When Malkovich first received the script he didn’t take any notice of the name and just started reading, thinking it was brilliant within the first thirty pages (before his character even appeared). Once he’d finished it, he phoned up Kaufman and asked him to change the title character and let him direct. Kaufman turned down the idea and about half a decade past before the project started to gain traction. Kaufman sent the script to Francis Ford Coppola, who the passed it on to director Spike Jonze, mostly known for directing music videos, and together they fine tuned the story. Their producers asked at one point if they would make it about any other actor if Malkovich wouldn’t do it, but they couldn’t find anyone else they were passionate about. Malkovich agreed to do it and Being John Malkovich was released in 1999 to critical and commercial success.
John Malkovich is absolutely fantastic in the film, with the pivotal role as himself. Not only does he need to play a fictional version of himself, but he also needs to play a fictional version of himself with a puppeteer controlling his brain. If he wasn’t good then the entire film falls apart, thankfully he’s great and in ever scene that he’s in, especially the scene where he visits his own brain and ends up meeting a room full of himself with a very limited vocabulary. John Cusack is also great as the struggling puppeteer who gets a day job. He’s full of nervous apprehension and bitterness towards a world that doesn’t appreciate him.
Cameron Diaz stars as Cusack’s wife, obsessed with the many animals that inhabit their apartment. She’s frantic and intense. Her character, Lotte, is one of the only ones that remains likable throughout the run-time, not including Malkovich. Her character moves from her obsession with animals to an almost drug like addiction to being inside a man’s brain.
Even two and a bit decades on from its release, Being John Malkovich is an original and fresh film. The opening twenty minutes, from the interpretive puppet dance to when the plot really unfolds is incredibly punchy. It’s captivating from the word go and everything just clicks into place so easily. Kaufman has always known how to write openings. As things start to unfold and the logic to the story is presented it does lose some of the magic, but it’s still enjoyable right to the end. And that ending, it’s dark, twisted and messed up in a such an extreme way.
At times it’s really funny and at others it can be a dark and sombre tale. Being John Malkovich is an experience and is just as strong now as when it was first released. You will not be disappointed.