creenwriter Charlie Kaufman is a trip. Ever since he burst
onto the scene with the kooky "Being John Malkovich", the screenwriter
could get a grocery list made into a movie. The main reason for his popularity
with film critics is obvious: they like his screenplay's unpredictability.
Actually, the only thing you can predict about a Kaufman screenplay is that you won't
be able to predict it. His screenplays, like his films, always seem to represent
a stream of consciousness rather than a structured narrative.
"Adaptation" is about a writer name Charlie
Kaufman who has been assigned the task of adapting a book called "The
Orchid Thief" into a movie. The film "Adaptation" is written by
Donald and Charlie Kaufman, and Movie Kaufman is played by Nicholas Cage, who
does double duty as Movie Kaufman's twin brother, Movie Donald. The film follows
Movie Kaufman's struggles to adapt the book while at the same time flashing back
to follow the book's writer, Susan Orlean, as she does the original research for
her book. Movie Susan is played by Meryl Streep, and John Laroche, the subject
of Susan's book, is played by Chris Cooper.
For those who are still confuse, let's go over this again.
The film is written by Charlie Kaufman, who has written himself into the movie
as himself. The main plot of the book if Kaufman trying to find the right
voice with which to write the movie. But instead of adapting Susan Orlean's
book, Kaufman has elected to write about Susan and her relationship with
herself, her husband, her life, and with Laroche. You see, the movie isn't
actually about Laroche; it's about Susan and Laroche.
The thing you should know is this: Kaufman isn't your
Average Hollywood Screenwriter. Anyone who has seen "Being John Malkovich" or
knows that the guy doesn't just stray off the Path of Screenwriting Rules, he
avoids it entirely. What passes for structure in "Adaptation" are
different scenes and sequences loosely revolving around Kaufman's struggles with
his craft, his industry, and his own shortcomings and perceived insecurities.
The film focuses more on Movie Kaufman than it does "The Orchid
Thief," the book that the movie is supposed to have been "based
"Adaptation", like all Kaufman movies, eventually
strays into absurd territory toward the end. The movie's final 30 minutes, when
Movie Kaufman flies to New York to meet Movie Susan, is completely fictional and
not "based on" anything, Susan Orlean's book or otherwise. It's simply
Kaufman's way of ending a movie he wasn't sure he wanted to write (or could
write) in the first place. (To be honest, I'm curious to know how the real Susan
and Laroche responded to the Third Act. It's quite stunning, in a
can-you-belief-Kaufman-had-the-balls-to-write-that kind of way.)
The groups of people who will love "Adaptation"
are screenwriters, movie people, and those well versed in all things filmmaking.
The movie pokes fun of everything Hollywood is about, as well as every single
rule that defines "good screenwriting." Brian Cox, as a vulgar and
arrogant screenwriting guru name McKee, brings the house down with a boisterous
presence. The thing McKee and all screenwriting teachers/lecturers/writers
preach over and over is exactly the thing Real Life Kaufman doesn't
follow. It's not hard to imagine that the Hollywood-inspired scenes in
"Adaptation" is Real Life Kaufman's wink to "those in the
know" that he knows he's not "the norm".
That isn't to say "Adaptation" can't be enjoyed
by Joe Blow Moviegoer. The film is quirky and funny, and as previously
mentioned, it's quite hard to predict. It tends to meander, but that's only
because there is no set structure to the film's narrative. The movie moves when
it wants to move, and bogs down when it runs out of steam. This is not a
life-changing movie, and like the Kaufman films I've seen so far, I find
"Adaptation" to be rather unimportant to life in general and perhaps a
little too "tricky" for its own good.
For those wondering, despite being credited as co-writer,
there is no such person as "Donald Kaufman." The character is just
that -- a character within the movie, and the addition of a "Donald
Kaufman" in the credit listing is just another gag by director Spike Jonze
and crew. For reference, consider that Kaufman and Jonze's last movie together,
"Being John Malkovich", starred the real-life John Malkovich as
himself in a movie about him.