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Adaptation (2002)

  Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Charlie Kaufman, Susan Orlean
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton
Links: Adaptation on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy the Book, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 9.33 (3 ratings)
nofreelist.com Ranking: Ranked equal 10th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Adaptation (2002) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Alex and Emma (2003), pearly's review of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), pearly's review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), em_fiction's review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), pearly's review of I Heart Huckabees (2004), citizenjoe's review of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), em_fiction's review of Lost in Translation (2003) and em_fiction's review of Matchstick Men (2003).

"It's a fine, fine line…" - a review by mino

I'll admit that, going into Adaptation, I was a little worried. Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze last teamed up on Being John Malkovich (1999), one of the cleverest and most original films produced in recent times (I'm well aware that not everyone would agree with this assessment, but whatever). Ordinarily, you'd think this would be a good thing; however, it was hard not to worry that Kaufman and Jonze were a one-trick-pony pairing.

The question is, could the two do it again? All too often, a clever and original film is followed up by one that tries to be too clever, and too original, and ends up being neither — or being both, but also totally unwatchable. At various times while watching Adaptation, I was convinced that I was seconds away from the shark-jumping moment that was inevitably drawing closer; each time, Adaptation teetered on the edge for a while, and drew itself back at the last minute.

Adaptation sits on some weird boundary between a regular movie, a documentary, a treatise on filmmaking, and a self-deprecating ‘biopic’ of the writer (an ‘autobiopic’?), with more than a touch of Woody Allen tipped in. It's a rather daunting mix, and one that requires the undivided attention of the viewer: luckily, the attention will be well-rewarded.

Nicolas Cage plays (quite literally) a twin role in Adaptation: that of Kaufman himself, a writer coming off a raging success in Malkovich, and just beginning to work on an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean (played by Meryl Streep), and that of his good-for-nothing twin brother, Donald. Adaptation simultaneously covers Kaufman's stuggles with adapting what may well be the unadaptable book, his running battles with his twin, Orlean's initial encounters with John Laroche (the truly excellent Chris Cooper) which led to her writing the book in the first place, and Kaufman and Orlean's present-day run-ins. Confused? Well, you should be — but in a good way. If nothing else, Adaptation will most certainly make you think.

If there is one flaw with Adaptation, it's that it sits on not just the blurred boundary mentioned above, but also on the boundary between being thought-provoking and just-plain-confusing; the boundary between being clever and being clever-dick; and the boundary between being unconventional and being ridiculous. I'll admit that at times, it seemed to sit on the wrong side of all of these lines, albeit sometimes only briefly. A lot of this was just personal preference though, and I'm sure that there are just as many people who think that it's a thought-provoking, clever, and deliciously unconventional masterpiece as think it's a confusing, clever-dick, ridiculous mess. It's not that one group would be right or wrong; it's just that it's the sort of movie that would rub different people in very different ways, much as did Malkovich. I'm largely in the former group, but sometimes the film started to irritate me slightly. Not enough for me not to think it's a magnificent piece of work, but enough that I just can't bring myself to rate it up there with Malkovich.

That said, Adaptation really is one of the standout films I've seen recently. Even if you're one who is easily irritated by overly-clever arthouse crap, you should see it just for Brian Cox's excellent performance as screenwriting guru Robert McKee: an uncanny effort well worth the price of admission.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Sun 4 Jan 2004

"See it, then see it again" - a review by pearly

Don't you hate it when movie reviewers say "if you see only one movie this year, it should be [whichever movie they're currently reviewing]"? I am fighting the urge to say that about Adaptation, and, worse still, it's only ten days into the year. The thing is, though, Adaptation is a fantastic movie. Thought-provoking in the truest sense of the word(s), out of the ordinary, not playing by the rules, and many other positive movie reviewing clichés as well.

Written by Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation is a rather loose, err, adaptation of the novel The Orchid Thief, which was written by Susan Orlean (who is played by Meryl Streep in the movie). Kaufman's task is to adapt Orlean's novel into a film version; the story being about a man named John Laroche (Chris Cooper - who was Kevin Spacey's neighbour in American Beauty (1999), but is unrecognisable in this), who is fascinated with the different varieties of orchids. What Kaufman finds, however, is that Orlean's novel, whilst being intensely descriptive, isn't actually about much, and is therefore incredibly hard to turn into a film.

And that's where Adaptation becomes less about the story of the orchid thief, and more about the story of Charlie Kaufman, struggling with his own mind to adapt this novel into a film. As the movie begins, Kaufman is still working on his previous project, Being John Malkovich (1999) (which I highly recommend seeing before you see this), but he has started thinking about how he will go about the screenplay for Adaptation. As it progresses, we go into Kaufman's mind, as he tries to figure things out, and begins to get writer's block.

Nicolas Cage plays Kaufman, and does a brilliant job of it (hard as though that may be to believe). He is at once fragile and confident, and the way he plays this character is just spot-on. Streep stays fairly well below the radar, which suits the characters she's surrounded by, most notably the larger-than-life Cooper. The cast is well rounded by Tilda Swinton, who plays Valerie (the person that commissions Kaufman to write the screenplay).

Adaptation is the kind of film that leaves you thinking about it long afterwards, and realising things you hadn't first noticed. It's also the first film in a long time where, as I've walked out of the cinema, I've said "I want to see that again, and really soon!" - it just hits you, and makes you think, and intrigues you.

Another thing I hate is when reviewers say "this isn't the type of movie that will appeal to everyone", because, well, duh, of course it won't. Nothing appeals to everyone. But in this case, I can see how the saying has some merit. This film is only really going to be appreciated by certain people. Aside from the references to Being John Malkovich, there are many inner monologues (for better or worse), and film themes that would probably bore some people stupid. To people who can appreciate what the film is trying to do, though (myself included), Adaptation is extraordinarily clever, very watchable, and wonderfully complex.

pearly gives this movie 10 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 10 Jan 2003

Movie review statistics

Ratings given without reviews:

Number of reviews: 2
Number of ratings: 3
Average rating: 9.33
Lowest rating: 9 (by mino, em_fiction)
Highest rating: 10 (by pearly)
 
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Reader comments

  1. adaptation is a favourite of mine and you've done it ample justice.

    well done. ;D

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from chiara (http://www.geocities.com/deadbeat_hostility/) on Wed 03 Sep 2003 17:17 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 10.00 (1 rating)

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