Spike Jonze directs Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper in this Hollywood satire where Charlie Kaufman, meta-loving screenwriter of Being John Malkovich, agrees to adapt a non-fiction bestseller with no plot and drives himself into a frenzy over his self-doubt, inertia and paranoia.
All the worst feels poured into a cocktail shaker and mixed vigorously into a viciously funny concoction of frustrated humanity. Kaufman’s view of himself is self lacerating but recognisable. We don’t get many feature length presentations on chronic indecision. Yet most of us in life do idle in the middle lane, scared to take risks while wanting to stay authentic to some limiting idea of who we are. Kaufman even invents a twin brother for juxtaposition. Blundering, confident, likeable – Donald has no issues selling out, getting the girl or getting along. Watching Cage play off himself is one of the film’s true delights. The internalised genius and the extroverted achiever grating and caring and trampling over each other produces much of the film’s heart and humour. He’s wonderful in both roles – avoiding the delirious ham that has defined his 21st century career. Strong work too from Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and the unsung Cara Seymour. Adaptation. is a curious movie. It has it cake and eats it and then shows you the recipe for cake and then ices the pages of the cookery book with everything that is bad for you but delicious. As Charlie sweats and sighs over turning the literary prose about flowers, life and loneliness into something cinematic, we catch accomplished glimpses of a faithful conversion of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into big screen release. Then when formulaic and crowd pleasing Donald takes over the process, the final act warps into a rollercoaster of cliches, broken rules and excitement. Art is betrayed but we are entertained. It is a heady, acerbic experience. One final note: Adaptation has one of the best movie trailers ever – it utterly sells the tone and uniqueness of a non-traditional film without being particularly quirky itself.
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