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Adaptation (R)
Sony Pictures
Official Site
Director: Spike Jonze
Producers: Charlie Kaufman, Jonathan Demme
Written by: Charlie Kaufman; screen credit also to Donald Kaufman
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Ron Livingston

Rating: out of 5

“Do I have an original thought in my head?” ponders Charlie Kaufman (Cage) during the opening of the new film Adaptation.

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


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