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Adaptation
2002 - R - Mins.
Director: Spike Jonze
Producer: Jonathan Demme, Edward Saxon, Vincent Landay
Written By: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman, Susan Orlean
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Cara Seymour
Review by: David Trier
   
Sometimes a filmmaker’s rejection of chronology makes a film stand out as daring and original. Jumping around from the present to the past and into the future sometimes adds mystery and intrigue to a good story. This is not one of those times.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) has been charged with writing a film adaptation of a book about journalist Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her experiences with John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a guy who finds and clones rare orchids. As Kaufman obsesses over how to write the adaptation, we see the story unfold. Meanwhile, his twin brother Donald (yes, more Cage) has no problem writing a commercial script because he took a class and has an optimistic view on life. Too neurotic to maintain any relationships o get any work done, Kaufman is at his wits end until his brother helps him find the story behind the story when they foolishly spy on the book’s author.

Being John Malkovic was an entertaining albeit confusing film that drew unusual performances from its cast. Director Spike Jonez tries to do this very thing in Adaptation but can’t get a grip on the scatter-brained story. After the first half hour, it’s easy to start asking why, what’s the point, where’s this going? It’s ironic that the story is about the real screenwriter Charlie Kaufman really trying to come up with a screenplay for the very story we’re watching. But this plays more like a gimmick than a truly original idea. Because our writer is the character and is so neurotic and obsessive he can’t write a cohesive storyline, we’re forced to watch a movie that is exactly that - neurotic and all over the place.

Although he doesn’t hold a candle to Jeremy Irons’ brilliant performance as twins in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, Cage does a generally acceptable job considering his tendencies for being a ham. There’s nothing particularly appealing about Charlie or his brother, but at least they’re both readily identifiable characters. Meryl Streep is good as always, but the real star of the film is Chris Cooper, whose Laroche character is so far removed from anything else we’ve seen him do, it is consistently impressive. Supporting roles are handled competently by Tilda Swinton, the always good Brian Cox and the underrated Ron Livingston. Cara Seymour is very appealing as Kaufman’s love interest.

Story-wise, this is not a film filled with characters I really care about that achieve anything, which despite that being an issue discussed by our writer and main character, doesn’t excuse it from being a dysfunctional film. There are some funny lines and some memorable scenes, including two brilliantly shot car accidents. But when the film decides to have an actual plot, about half an hour before the end, it becomes immensely irritating.

I like weird, but weirdness must always be derived from the platform of an interesting story and the frustration of a neurotic writer trying to adapt a script is not all that interesting. And weird just for the sake of being weird is a little average.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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