Criticism

Adaptation

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Finally, the wait is over: the year’s best film has arrived. An incredible semi-quasi-autobiography that defies both explanation and categorization, the newest from director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is even more inventive and perplexing than their pleasingly peculiar Being John Malkovich.

In 1999, Kaufman was commissioned to adapt “The Orchid Thief,” a nonfiction bestseller by The New Yorker writer Susan Orlean about a fanatical horticulturist named John Laroche. Desperate to avoid turning the profound book into a run-of-the-mill studio screenplay, Kaufman struggled to craft a story out of its deeply layered musings on passion and obsession without relying on hackneyed Hollywood conventions. When that failed, he ended up writing a script about himself struggling to write the script.

The result is Adaptation, a filmmaking masterpiece that cleverly melds fact and fantasy by placing real-life characters in partially-invented situations. Nicholas Cage stars as Kaufman (as well as Kaufman’s fictional twin brother, Douglas), trying to adapt the book by Orlean (Meryl Streep) about Laroche (Chris Cooper).

As intricately woven as the book on which it’s (roughly) based, Adaptation operates spectacularly on numerous levels simultaneously: as a hilarious comedy about neurotic people in stressful situations, as a razor-sharp satire of Hollywood that skillfully utilizes every moviemaking cliché it sends up, as a straightforward dramatic interpretation of the book’s historical lessons and soulful meditations on love and longing. Cage redeems a decade’s worth of terrible movies with two incredible performances, and Streep is sublime as a woman desperate to experience the passion she’s witnessed in others.

Watching Adaptation, it’s immediately clear how much thought went into every frame. The cinematic equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, it continually challenges viewers with its mind-boggling set-up. Thoroughly exhilirating, it’s film as performance art. Or maybe the making of a film as performance art. Either way, it’s brilliant.

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