“Do I have an original thought in my head?” ponders Charlie
Kaufman (Cage) during the opening of the new film
Talk about a rhetorical question.
After all, Kaufman is nothing if not an original. The man
who provided audiences with a portal into John Malkovich’s
brain now provides a portal into his own. Adaptation
is a brain fuck so unique, it’s likely to stand the test of
time as your mind’s most exotic cinematic experience. The
film is Kaufman’s latest collaboration with Malkovich
director Spike Jonze, and while it’s not always as
engaging as their previous endeavor, it certainly matches
it step for step in originality.
The film’s inimitability is really kind of ironic considering
its title is Adaptation. But Kaufman’s script is not
simply a page-to-screen translation of Susan Orlean’s
acclaimed book The Orchid Thief. Kaufman knows how
to write snappy original material, but in Adaptation
at least, doesn’t have a clue how to adapt Orlean’s best-seller—about
Florida orchid breeder John Laroche—into a screenplay.
The fictional Kaufman is a sweaty, balding, insecure mess,
whose perspiration only increases as the days turn into months,
and he still has nothing to show his anxious agent (Livingston).
Kaufman’s twin brother Donald (Cage), on the other
hand—who is just as overweight and balding as Charlie, not
to mention completely talentless, but exudes an overwhelming
confidence—pens a terrible screenplay about a serial killer
with a multiple personality disorder and becomes the “It”
man of the moment.
How do things like this happen? Kaufman ponders. The key
is adapting, something his brother is quite capable of, yet
it’s a skill that eludes Charlie. The film is full of Darwinian
references, and begs its audience to ask themselves into what
they are evolving: a creative genius like Charlie or a talentless
hack like Donald. Adaptation forces its viewers to
acknowledge that our life is just one big screenplay, the
actions we take continually catapulting us to the final scene.
If we want a truly original life, Kaufman argues, we have
to make some truly original choices.
And certainly he does here. While the idea of writing oneself
into a script may seem utterly narcissistic, it works like
a charm, and gives us some Player-esque insight into
the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a screenplay.
Jonze demonstrates that his success with Malkovich
was no fluke, proving himself one of his generation’s most
talented directors. Cage delivers a charming performance,
wiping away all memories of dreck like Con Air and
Snake Eyes, while Meryl Streep (as Orlean) proves
why she Oscar’s leading lady. Chris Cooper is also
disarming as Laroche, a toothless flower thief whose passion
for life ignites a fire in Orlean’s lackluster existence.
Despite the incredible acting and originality of the script,
Adaptation is not exactly problem-free. “Wow them in
the end, and you’ve got a hit,” says one character, but its
obvious Kaufman didn’t exactly follow his advice. Though the
ending obviously intends to mock Hollywood convention, it
crashes with an audible thud. Still, there won’t be any film
this season quite as exhilarating as Adaptation.
— Erin Steele