Review: Adaptation

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  January 10, 2003 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Reviews

From the mind of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman comes Nicolas Cage starring as twin brothers who are struggling with emotional as well as literary turmoils. It's funny, creative, and showcases good performances. Sign me up!

Charlie Kaufman (Cage) is burnt out. He constantly strives for perfection in his work but often is completely unaware of the world around him. Charlie struggles to adapt a rather cerebral novel called "The Orchid Thief", which showcases author Susan Orlean's (Meryl Streep) journey into the world of rare orchid collecting. The focus of the novel is a recluse collector named John LaRoche (Chris Cooper), who seems to be filled with passion when it comes to seeking out orchids in the wild. Crippled with a shadowed past, LaRoche captures Susan's attention as the perfect literary character. How can Charlie capture the hidden world of Orlean and LaRoche if he hardly understands his own? Oh, and Charlie lives with his twin brother Donald, who is also trying to become a breakout screenwriter in his own right.

The mind of Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter, is an enigma. How close is the actual writer to his persona in the movie? Kaufman is one of the great screenwriters of our time and this is evident in the first two-thirds of this film. The final third runs like Charlie gave up on the concept or they hired a worthless ghostwriter to wrap the script up. I have seen better endings on reruns of Miami Vice.

I did love how Cage plays the twins without making them physically look very different. In some scenes, you can actually see each of them mirroring each other with hardly a wardrobe or make-up change. When showing identical twins on screen, scripts tend to go for the exact opposite approach so that the audience isn't lost to which character is which. Even though there is just a subtle difference between the brothers, Cage uses his performance to bring a difference. It is quite ingenious in its delivery.

I also found myself really relating to the laid-back performance of Streep. She uses a lot of restraint in her character, which makes her very "waspy". It's very powerful, and one of the key reasons why I found the film's ending to be such a huge disappointment. I didn't for a minute believe that the Orlean character could do what is depicted.

In the film, Kaufman says that it's demented for a screenwriter to place himself in his own script. It sure is when he does and gives up for a predictably useless ending. (3 of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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