Adaptation

3 Bone Dog

Rated: R
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Cara Seymour, Ron Livingston,, Tilda Swinton, John Cusack, Brian Cox
Director: Spike Jonze
Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman and partially based on The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Charlie Kaufman is perhaps the most original of screenplay writers. Here he’s managed to adapt what he believed was a completely unadaptable book “about flowers” into a rather magical screenplay. How he did it, by incorporating pieces of himself: his own trepidation, writer’s block and even a more successful yet imaginary twin brother, is what Adaptation is all about. And it’s quite a marvel because it’s really two stories in one.

Charlie Kaufman (brilliantly portrayed by Nicolas Cage) is a hapless, insecure lump of a guy who is desperately trying to adapt The New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean’s nonfiction novel The Orchid Thief for the big screen. The book is the true story of John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a Florida horticulturist who works with Seminole Indians to acquire … make that steal from wildlife preserves … rare orchids, that he hopes to clone and sell to collectors for huge profits. Laroche is a dichotomy: a white trash intellectual. Orlean (Meryl Streep) can’t help but be enthralled with him. Her book is by no means a simple tale of Laroche’s exploits; the author has infused it with way too much personal reflection on flowers, life, loneliness and need to allow Kaufman an easy time of turning this thing into a interesting and watchable film, no matter how much beauty he finds in her pages. In fact, the job is nearly driving him insane.

Then there’s Kaufman’s fictional twin brother Donald (also Cage), a more successful version of Charlie who happens to be staying with him. Donald’s presence is a continual annoyance to Charlie, particularly when his twin announces that he too is going to write screenplays and that he’s even taking a 3-day writing seminar with industry guru Robert McKee (Brian Cox) to help get a leg up – an idea that Charlie dismisses outright. While Charlie suffers through endless false starts, Donald has no such problems and he finishes his generic serial killer script in less time than it takes for Charlie to yank out what’s left of his thinning hair.

Well Charlie finally manages to finish the script and is surprised to discover that he’s done exactly what Orlean had done: incorporated much of himself and his problems into the end result. Only, in Kaufman’s case, it’s to comedic effect and doesn’t end where the Orlean book left off. Yet despite the enormous comedy instilled in such an artful solution, there is a great deal of seriousness to absorb at the same time. Laroche’s character is not without tragic elements. As for Orlean, she too offers up many touching moments.

John Malkovich, John Cusack and Catherine Keener appear as themselves in reference to Being John Malkovich. Cara Seymour plays Charlie’s love interest, Amelia and Tilda Swinton plays Charlie’s studio contact Valerie.

Lotta says: Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze are the team that previously brought us Being John Malkovich, a fantastic mindbender of a movie. They’re now 2 for 2. Nicolas Cage has never been better and his dual portrayals of a depressive Charlie and the more manic Donald are seamless. Meryl Streep is loose and goosey as Orlean. But Chris Cooper as Laroche plays a wonderful departure from his usual straight-laced roles. Brian Cox does a spot-on portrayal of the foul-mouthed script maven Robert McKee. This cast is just terrific. Charlie Kaufman is clearly a magician because he’s done the impossible!

Reviewed 12/24/02