I’m thinking about writing a screenplay. I’ve been wanting to take a break from simply writing about movies and try my hand at actually writing a film. Rather than simply critiquing the form like the armchair critic I am, I should try to create and be productive. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve had an itch to write a screenplay and I actually wrote like 60 pages of a script (about five years ago) for a crime thriller (like I’m fucking Donald Kauffman in Adaptation but more on the movie I’m reviewing later) about a religious cult in a small town that was supposed to be allegorical for the dangerous political and cultural situation we’ve entered with all of the extreme right-wing rhetoric in our nation. To this day, I still think my opening scene for it was pretty awesome but that’s a story for another day. I’d have to take a break from this blog (or at least slow down the rate at which I consume and review movies), but that wouldn’t be the end of the world since I still write professionally these days. What brought this sudden desire out was my viewing last night of the cerebral, brain-bending modern classic, Adaptation., by the wunderkind screenwriter of the 2000s, Charlie Kaufman. I’d love to craft a sort of post-modernist, head trip account of modern millennial disconnect and relationships, so perhaps tonight after True Blood, I’ll take a stab at starting something like that. Until then, let’s look at Charlie Kaufman’s second film (it’s gotta be hard to come up with a follow-up to the universally lauded Being John Malkovich) and how it stood up to the imagined movie I had in my head (I haven’t seen it since around when it came out and for some reason I thought it was much more explicit about its meta-structure. Thankfully it was more subtle [although not especially subtle]).

Adaptation. is heavy on the metatext so some backstory is in order (though by giving the backstory, I’m actually also explaining the plot of the film so yeah, it’s that kind of movie). After the mega-success of Being John Malkovich among film critics and cult movie fans, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nic Cage) was given the unenviable task of adapting the acclaimed novel The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (The Iron Lady‘s Meryl Streep), a novel that is pretty much primarily a historical and biological treatise on orchids as well as an enigmatic and roguish orchid poacher named John Laroche (Lonesome Dove‘s Chris Cooper). Obviously, there’s not a lot of plot there, and Charlie Kaufman struggled intensely to adapt a fairly formless novel to the more structured medium of cinema. It didn’t go well, and so Charlie Kaufman decided to write a movie about his inability to write a movie about The Orchid Thief while simultaneously making it a post-modernist commentary on the creative process and then deliver a final act that tries to jam as much hackneyed and cliched storytelling in to thirty minutes as humanly possible in a completely intentional and awesome manner. He also creates a completely fictional twin brother, Donald Kaufman (also played by Nic Cage), who is a hack screenwriter whose trite film gains more traction than Charlie’s so-called “art” film. Throughout we get a fairly intimate look at Charlie’s own self-loathing, neurosis, and doubt as he weaves himself into his own film.

The script is one of the most insightful satires on Hollywood and the way that movies are made since Sunset Boulevard. Charlie Kaufman is pretty much without question the best scriptwriter of the late 90s/2000s, and Adaptation. could be called Kaufman’s own 8 1/2 (though about writing instead of directing and with self-loathing and neuroses instead of Fellini’s mercurial charm and womanizing). The film takes at least two viewings (the number of times I’ve seen it now though I’d likely notice even more things after more viewings) to catch just how cleverly Kaufman sets all of the pieces in play in the film’s first two acts to create his massive deconstruction of the Hollywood feature in the film’s final act. Throughout the film, Charlie (and occasionally Robert McKee [Brian Cox]) makes a list of things he doesn’t want to do to bastardize his own film and to cheapen the art of Susan Orlean’s original novel. By the film’s end, he does all of them in hilarious, post-modern fashion. Even if Charlie just ultimately realized that Susan’s novel was completely unfilmable (though the sections about are truly engaging and educating) and decided to cop out with his over-the-top cliche-ridden ending, the frame he put all of those cliches in and the never-ending commentary about how stale those literary devices are, more than made up for him giving up on his actual mission to adapt The Orchid Thief.

Nic Cage has a bad rap lately among serious movie types. He’s earned this bad rap by taking one shitty film after another and playing the same type of frenetic, hyperactive rogue again and again like he has for the last decade. However, there was a time when he was one of the most intriguing actors of his generation. His performance in Leaving Las Vegas is one of my top five male performances of all time and his part in Adaptation. was probably his last great role. Instead of pure charm and swagger like he normally exudes, Charlie is Nic Cage as a neurotic and depressed mess. He’s a total loser and there’s so much subtlety and nuance to the role that you’d be shocked it was Nic Cage. Just to contrast how different this is from his usual persona (and possibly an entirely new layer of metatextual subtext to the film), we have Donald Kaufman who is the more traditional Nic Cage role. Say what you will about his career for the last ten years, this was an actor at the heights of his career. Chris Cooper won an Oscar for the film. I’m not sure if I have any comments about whether he should have won. I don’t remember who he was up against that year, but it’s an endlessly intriguing performance. Laroche is a multifaceted character with a bubbling intellect but obvious delusions of grandeur as well as a general misanthropy. Cooper really nails him to the board so it was a well-earned honor (I just checked out the other nominees. I’ve only seen Chicago out of the other performances he beat so I really can’t comment). Meryl Streep was fine but she’s great in everything and this wasn’t an especially astounding Meryl Streep role.

I’m still in the depths of a miserable sinus infection. Every morning when I wake up I feel like tiny creatures have burrowed into my throat and started scratching away at the linings of my esophagus (or whatever part of my throat contains the nerve endings that react to a sore throat. I never took anatomy.). I took a lengthy nap today but I still feel completely wrecked. Therefore, I’ll draw my musings on Adaptation. to a close. If you’ve yet to see this marvelous film, I highly recommend it and I’ve already armed you with the backstory needed to really appreciate just how clever this film truly is in the sort of kaleidoscopic way only Charlie Kaufman can be. However, I would also tell you to watch Being John Malkovich first just so you can get a feel for his style before you dive into this even more “meta” film. Readers should prepare themselves for a Charlie Kaufman heavy week here at my blog. Being John Malkovich is the next film in my instant queue and then the next movie that should be physically coming to my house is Kaufman’s directorial debut (he also wrote the script), Synechdoche, N.Y. which Roger Ebert hailed as the greatest film of the 2000s. I’ve never actually watched the latter so I’m very excited.

Final Score: A

Advertisements