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  •  REVIEW: ADAPTATION.

    Adaptation.

    Kauf Kauf

    "Being John Malkovich" writer Charlie Kaufman and his alleged brother Donald Kaufman, both played winningly by Nicolas Cage, wrestle with the script of the movie they're in, the clever "Adaptation."

    By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
    Offoffoff.com

    The lines between reality and invention are cleverly and schizophrenicallyblurred in "Adaptation.," the latest puzzle from the creative minds behind "Being John Malkovich" screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze. In the film Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named, oddly enough, CharlieKaufman. Kaufman (the character) is adapting the non-fiction book "The OrchidThief" (written by real-life New Yorker columnist turned author Susan Orlean)into a movie; Orlean is played by Meryl Streep. "The Orchid Thief" documentsthe life and exploits of the colorful John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a delusionalnaturalist cum rare orchid collector with no front teeth (courtesy of an automobile accident, graphically realized). Cage also plays (with the assistance of some extremely convincing trick photography) Charlie's twin brother Donald, the fictitious Hollywood screenwriter and twin brother of Charlie. Is this a "real" story, then? (Sort of.) Does it matter that some — perhaps all — of the characters in the film are based on (or simply are) real people? (Not really.) Is it all as confusing as it really sounds? (No.) The film's complicated tagline — more a précis of the entire movie — sums it up quite nicely: "Charlie Kaufman writes the way he lives . . . with great difficulty. His twin brother Donald lives the way he writes . . . with foolish abandon. Susan writes about life . . . but can't live it. John's life is a book . . . waiting to be adapted. One story . . . Four lives . . . A million ways it can end." The ending of "Adaptation." is, as it turns out, a bit of a letdown especially since at one point in the film an authority on screenwriting suggests that an exceptional ending is what separates great films from merely good ones (so you're led to expect an extraordinary finale that never really transpires). But up until that point Kaufman and Jonze, along with a stellar cast, lead us on an imaginative, funny, and highly original journey into the Florida Everglades in search of an elusive and highly-coveted flower known as the ghost orchid. (Echoing, perhaps, our search as humans for that elusive passion in our pathetic little lives?) It's done with flair and wit and eccentricity . . . and terrific performances. Cage is wonderful in a demanding dual role and we have come to expect nothing less than excellence from Streep (who doesn't let us down). But the real find here is Chris Cooper, rock-solid and dependable in his previous outings ("American Beauty," "The Horse Whisperer," "Lone Star," etc.) yet near sensational here in a charismatic, full-blown performance that ought to be recognized at Oscar time. In fact, the film should easily pick up nods for best screenplay and best director, with perhaps one or two additional acting nominations. (It's no coincidence that the film is being released now as AMPAS voters ready their year end "for your consideration" checklists) The ability to adapt to change, whether it be a person or a rare speciesof plant, is one definition of the film's ambiguous title. Yet even the moreobvious meaning of "Adaptation." cannot ignore that strange — and from a non-grammatical standpoint relatively disappointing — period at the end.

      
    ADAPTATION.
    Directed by: Spike Jonze.
    Written by: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman, Susan Orlean.
    Cast: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Cara Seymour.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    DECEMBER 31, 2002
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Adaptation.:

  • Adaptation   from Menachem, Apr 8, 2003
  • Meanings   from Entity, Jun 8, 2003
  • Re: Meanings   from Lydia, Nov 6, 2003
  • Re: Meanings   from Ameritus, Aug 12, 2003
  • AH - HA!   from Clifford, Sep 25, 2003
  • The Let Down Was Intentional   from Mr.X, May 27, 2004
  • hey listen to my comment!!!   from madison, Jan 10, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Adaptation."