Adaptation
Grade: B
Year: 2002
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Susan Orlean
Genre: Comedy
Rated: R

To most critics, Spike Jonze's "Adaptation" is better than sex. It's a provocative comedy (something you don't see many of these days) starring Nicholas Cage twice, and other big-name actors. But witty as it is, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

If your decision to see this movie is based on my review, then this paragraph is the only one you need to read: "Adaptation" was written by Charlie Kaufman, so if you didn't like the movie about John Malkovich, then you might not like the movie about Charlie Kaufman; both directed by Spike Jonze. Those who did like "Malkovich" will probably enjoy "Adaptation," a slightly smarter and more sophisticated comedy.

"Adaptation" is a movie about itself. A movie about a man writing a movie about a book that is the plot of the movie we are watching that will eventually be the movie written by the man. Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is that man. He is a screenwriter who is hired to turn a book called The Orchid Thief into a movie. The book is based on a New Yorker article written by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). She writes about a Florida orchid lover named John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who claims to be the only one who knows how to cultivate the rare and endangered flower.

This presents a problem that all great writers eventually come to in their professional careers. Kaufman realizes that while orchids may make a good book topic, it doesn't mean it will make a great movie. So here we are, watching Kaufman struggle to turn a book about orchids into a feature film. He is the main character of this movie. His task is difficult, and every other character introduced will make it harder. His producer, Valerie (Tilda Swinton), is pressuring him with deadlines, and his twin brother Donald (also played by Cage) is a no-talent fool who is always bothering him for ideas for his own screenplay.

The Kaufman brothers are what I enjoyed most in the movie . Donald is that guy you knew who had everything handed to him and deserved none of it. We know Charlie is pathetic; his brother is worse and is the complete opposite. He has little talent and admits he wants to throw something together just to get rich regardless of material quality. He attends the screenwriting seminars of Robert McKee (Brian Cox), who breaks down the do's and don'ts of writing. Much of McKee's lessons purposely criticize the structure of this movie, such as never use voiceovers, an element that is used throughout "Adaptation."

No attempt is made to show any distinction between Cage's characters with the exception that Charlie wears flannel, but we have fun pretending that the Kaufmans are played by two different actors. Kudos to the makeup effects department for making Cage fat, bald and always sweating.

The great irony of the movie is that Charlie is supposed to be the acclaimed writer; heck, he wrote "Being John Malkovich." His brother tries to emulate his success by writing a ridiculous screenplay that is butchered every time Charlie critiques it. Let it be known, that Donald's thriller is immediately purchased. Charlie gets desperate and even attends the McKee seminars, despite promising never to go. Donald is becoming more and more successful as the movie progresses. He even dates a crewmember from the "Being John Melodic" set.

Charlie's problem is that he can't make his story exciting, yet his boring screenplay is the movie we as the audience are actually watching. We follow Ms. Orlean as she travels to Florida and finds Laroche, a man who wears dirty clothes, has a bad haircut and his front teeth are missing. When they meet, he introduces Orlean to the wonderful world of flowers and lectures on the beauty of them. Their relationship flourishes and eventually becomes intimate.

The biggest flaw in "Adaptation" is that the characters do things that don't fit their profile. Take the misunderstood John Laroche. His front teeth are missing, and because of that, he is secretly made fun of by Orlean's family. We later see in a flashback what led to him losing his teeth, and how we all judged him to be someone he isn't. That's a good life lesson. You don't know a person just by looking at him. So now Orlean and ourselves have the guilt of misjudging a man. But later he does something so bizarre and ridiculous that we know it's not plausible, but are forced to go along with it because it's somehow all part of a brilliant plot that we are supposed to like. I wasn't convinced.

"Adaptation" is a tight package but begins to unravel towards the last scene. The ending is a mess, and the characters lose all credibility. However, if this movie is a true portrayal of what Kaufman is writing for his movie, then these silly events must take place because as we've been told, orchids alone make a boring subject. As Kaufman said, it's not fit for a movie. Unfortunately, the offbeat climax doesn't remedy the plot.

The movie is often funny and I laughed a number of times. The story is original and there are enough plot twists to keep it exciting. Both Cage and Streep give memorable performances and so does Cooper. "Adaptation" is a good movie, it's just not great. But if you had fun exploring the mind of John Malkovich in "Being John Malkovich," then it is only necessary that you explore the mind of the man who wrote it.

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Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati