Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #3: Adaptation

2002 orchid movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Charlie Kaufman, straight from the critical success of Being John Malkovich, attempts to adapt best-selling novel The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. He struggles with the material while at the same time struggling with life in general. Meanwhile, his brother Donald decides to also become a screenwriter and is having no problems with his serial killer murder mystery The Three. This puts Charlie in a bad mood. He tries everything--a meeting with the original author, the same writer's workshop that Donald attended, even getting his brother's feedback--as he tries to meet deadlines and get the script finished.

A special treat for Nicolas Cage fans for a few reasons. 1) He's kind of fat in this one, so there's actually more Nicolas Cage on the screen than in any other movie. 2) He plays twins, Charlie and Donald, so at times, you get two kind-of-fat Nicolas Cages on the screen simultaneously. It's almost an overdose of Nicolas Cage. 3) For my money, it's his finest acting performance. If you've got any doubt at all about the talents of Nicolas Cage, probably because you've seen his new Drive Angry or The Wicker Man or Ghost Rider, this is probably the one that'll convince you that you've been wrong about the guy. And really, all you need to do is hear him say "Banana Nut--that's a good muffin" in order to be convinced. I'd imagine that playing twins, especially if they share a lot of screen time and actually interact with each other, would be difficult. If Hayley Mills would ever answer my creepy letters, I'd know for sure. Cage is terrific here as a set of twins, so good with body language, voice modulation, and barely perceivable nuances that you know right away which character is which. I think a lot of the credit for Cage's performance has to be given to Spike Jonze, and Cage has even said that he did what the director told him instead of going with his natural instincts. I wonder if Meryl Streep as author Susan Orlean and Chris Cooper as the titular orchid thief John Laroches did the same thing because they're just as terrific. And when you have three acting performances that are this good in a movie? Hold on to your hat! All three were nominated, and Cooper won for best supporting actor. Jonze's direction is solid, too; I was most impressed with the way the intersecting parts of this story are edited in a way that, although it makes you a little uncomfortable because it is jarring, manages to hold all these massively complex parts together. But the real star of this show is the screenplay by the Kaufman "brothers," a multifaceted rare jewel of a script that will bounce around your noggin for days after you've seen this. The story is so layered, so self-referential, so meta-clever, and so thematically complex that it's like an action movie for intellectuals, the type of movie that'll make really smart people pump their fists and grunt. Kaufman's script bounces off itself in some really cool ways, and the more you think about it, the more surprising ways it makes connections. Adaptation is really the anti-Con Air, a movie that you really have to put some work into in order to fully enjoy. It's either the type of movie that you have to watch a few times to have a grasp (not a complete grasp, mind you) or the type of movie that proves I'm not as smart as most people. I do enjoy movies about the creative process (i.e. Barton Fink, Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, even Black Swan I guess) though. There's just so much here, and I really wish I would have waited until next month to make this the Oprah Movie Club selection for July. This is a unique film and a good muffin of a movie.

And Hayley Mills--if you happen to Google your own name and find this, please write me back and send those pictures I've requested.


cory said...

A very trippy film that I need to see again. A 16.

Shane said...

I was wondering what your thoughts about this one would be as I was typing up my praises...thought we'd have another 'Synecdote' on our hands.

First time I saw this, I got it...I saw what he was wanting to do. I missed the depth though. It's one that needs to be seen more than once.