Starring Nicolas CageDirected by Spike Jonze 112 minutesRated R
Let me begin by saying that I loved this movie -- I thought it was extraordinarily funny and even more clever. That being said, I fully expect Adaptation to be somewhat less than a box office smash, judging simply from the reaction of the audience surrounding me in the theater. Though it may sound cynical, this movie may be too witty for much of the viewing audience. The procession of blank faces and confused looks that I saw around me exiting consolidated that opinion. Of course, there was enough general humor in Adaptation, receiving some laughs, but it seemed at the really hilarious moments there were only a few people laughing -- only a few of us "got it."
It seems that most movies have a trick in them now, something to surprise the audience, a twist. I won't give away the trick in Adaptation here, and in fact, the trick wasn't actually given away in the movie either; the audience must infer what was really going on. That is where the problem for the audience lies; they expect spoon-fed twists and turns - something not expected perhaps, but for the unexpected to be fully explained, in detail -- with diagrams.
What is Adaptation about? It's about flowers. Does that sound boring? That is the point. It's also about a horticulturist, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a book (The Orchid Thief) and its author, Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), a screenplay about the book and its author Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) and his twin brother Donald. The movie is ultimately, I think, about writing -- its difficulties, traps, and clichés. Adaptation is about the making of Adaptation and the movie ends with the completion of the script. Some of the characters are real people playing themselves, some are actors playing real people, and some are completely fictional -- I won't be revealing which are which here of course.
Kaufman is hired to write the screenplay for The Orchid Thief, a nonfiction book about John Laroche, a man arrested for stealing orchids from a Florida state park, written by Susan Orlean. The book is filled with philosophical passages and flower descriptions -- there are no protagonists, there is not much plot. Kaufman, frustrated with the screenplay, moves outside of the book and includes its author in the screenplay and eventually includes himself.
In a movie that is so much about writing (its own) it is easy to forget about the acting, which is phenomenal. Cage's performance of the Kaufman brothers is amazing -- he interacts with himself as two completely different characters. Meryl Streep is excellent as well, portraying a New York socialite utterly disgusted with the New York intellectual scene. Chris Cooper plays the eccentric redneck scientist to a T. The really astonishing thing about all of their performances, though, is the bridge between reality and fiction, from multidimensional characters to stock clichés.
I can't help but wonder if this movie is a test to see if we are even paying attention anymore. On one level, Adaptation is a brilliant movie. On another though, it is an egotistical self-indulgence -- something akin to Stephen King actually publishing his shopping list to see how many people will buy it. But, I suppose I bought it. Go see this movie; you'll either get it or you won't.