Adaptation (2002)

July 11, 2011 By Mike B
Movie Review

What Worked?

One of the most grueling talents to have is that of creative writing, as creative writers must create the world over and over again with only blank pages and black ink.  Spike Jonze takes us into a brilliant writer’s mind while he attempts to adapt a book about flowers into a film script. Adaptation is arguably Jonze’s masterwork, and Nicolas Cage‘s best screen performance. It is timeless and inspiring in an awkwardly beautiful way.

Spike Jonze’s visual eye and Charlie Kaufman‘s scripts are made for each other, and Adaptation proves it once again. Director Jonze interweaves two stories seamlessly; one being the screenwriter adapting the book about flowers, and the actual story about the book about flowers. Both stories collide on a level that isn’t necessarily real in a sense that we know. The cinematography and editing of the film are fantastically odd, visceral and intimate. From a simple shot that brings out the humility of Charlie pouring sweat to the amazing time-lapse of how we came to be, every scene works. Once again, Charlie Kaufman has conjured up a fairly odd, always interesting, genuinely heartfelt script. Kaufman is a screenwriter that is completely inspiring, and it bleeds through the characters and stories he writes, as we see in Adaptation.

Nicolas Cage can act, he just takes on some really crappy films every now and then, but in Adaptation he’s untouchable. Cage plays both Charlie and Donald Kaufman, twins that are opposites in everything but image, with a distinction that is so very natural. The main character Cage plays is Charlie, a fat, balding, socially isolated, nervous writer that is having trouble adapting a book about flowers (that isn’t really about flowers) in a way that’s not “Hollywood.” Cage is honest and relative in his pathetic actions that it’s so easy to connect with him as Charlie. He reflects on life through his actions and perspective, and we get to see his attractive thoughts unravel as it struggles to keep his adaptation away from a mainstream filter. Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean, the author of the “flower book,” gives a warm and solid-as-usual performance. Chris Cooper plays John Laroche, the toothless, orchid poaching redneck that is actually quite passionate about plants. Cooper is funny, admirable and at times dangerous, but always entertaining.

Adaptation is a film that is a breath of fresh air that’s so pure it feels like you’ve never taken it in before. It’s unique in every sense of the word. The film shows us that the struggle is a study of life, and the best way to study it. Charlie has set out to adapt a film about flowers, which isn’t really about flowers, and make it so that it isn’t stuffed into a mainstream box. However, what does he do by the end of it? He includes the car chase, the sex, the clean ending, and all you’d expect a Hollywood film to have. In other words, Charlie the film character fails by the end of the film by giving us a “Hollywood ending,” and in that failure Charlie Kaufman succeeds.

Potential Drawbacks:

This is one of those films that is hard to figure out in a first sitting, and if you prefer films that are straight forward, this isn’t the film to watch. Most might think the ending takes the film a notch down, but watching it again, it makes sense that it ended the way it did. It’s not an easily accessible film for many, but the people involved probably never wanted it to be.

Film Recommendations:

Being John Malkovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Synecdoche, New York


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