Overview: Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman writes himself into his movie script adaptation of a Susan Orlean novel about a colorful orchid thief. 2002; Rated R; 114 Minutes.
Miracle Number One:With Nicolas Cage taking on dual roles as twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufmann and casual collector of Oscar nominations Meryl Streep in top form as Susan Orlean, it’s almost inconceivable that any actor could steal the screen. Chris Cooper does just that. His portrayal of John Laroche, the eccentric collector for whom all of this exists, lends the character elements of hilarity, humanity, and heartache, and provides the viewer with the film’s most touching and amusing moments.
Miracle Number Two: For those who know nothing of the movie and skipped the opening of my review, let’s reiterate: Nicolas Cage stars as twin brothers. Dual roles. Much has been discussed about the comically erratic style of acting that Cage brings to assignments and that style’s frequency of derailing movies (think The Wicker Man, GhostmRider). However, plenty of examples exist of directors who have subdued or used the same style to success (think Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas). No one has gotten a better performance(s) from Cage than Jonze elicits here. Cage creates two fleshed out and lovable characters—one real, one fictional—so distinctly different we never think of them as the same person and we never think of them as Nicolas Cage. Adaptation is Cage’s first and second best performances, an achievement of balance for a director that is probably equivalent to teaching two honey badgers to use a seesaw.
Miracle Number Three: Speaking of balance: Jonze and Kaufman have put together a movie that is complete as an uproarious comedy, an enlightening drama, a drug smuggling thriller, and, perhaps most noticeably, a meditation on screenwriting and the trends of modern film. Any attempt to even illustrate the basic plot points is a confusing, futile exercise. So when these distinctly colorful kites are steered in full flight with graceful choreography, we can only watch in awe.
Kaufmann and Jonze Campaign for Sainthood: Adaptation is a movie that is cognitive and emotional. Academic and anti-establishment. The performances are eccentric but comfortable, never competing. The story simultaneously utilizes the principles of genre and satirizes the absurdity of genre. And the narrative visits sheer joy, heartache, romance, and catastrophe. It’s hard to imagine any other writer/director trying to fit all of this into a single movie without it ending up a mess. Adaptation ends up as a masterpiece.
Overall: In case it isn’t clear: I consider this movie something of a filmmaking miracle. In the opening scene, Charlie Kaufman the character describes in full the movie we are about to watch when he presents his list of things he doesn’t want his movie to become. He takes the script there anyway, manages to hit every item on his forbidden list, and he is brilliant every step of the way.