FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE REVIEW: Last night I saw “Adaptation,” which stars Nicolas Cage (Raising Arizona, Rage), Meryl Streep (The Post, Into the Woods), Chris Cooper (August: Osage County, American Beauty), Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange, Snowpiercer), and Cara Seymour (American Psycho, You’ve Got Mail). It is directed by Spike Jonze (Her, Being John Malkovich) while the screenplay is written by Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Charlie Kaufman (Cage) struggles to adapt “The Orchid Thief,” a book written by The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean (Streep), while also trying to break his reclusive shell of a self.
Let me start this off by saying that I never thought I’d witness a great Nicolas Cage film. Sure, the “National Treasure” movies and “Raising Arizona” are fun, but they didn’t reach a point in my scale to deem them as exceptional. Let’s face it: Nic Cage is laughable these days. He churns out a handful of direct-to-video flicks every few years in order to make some quick cash, only for them to stumble into hilariocity depths. You’ve witnessed this on my site numerous times, giving claim to my surprise when I sat down to see the highly acclaimed “Adaptation” for the first time. This isn’t a Cage feature, but merely a movie with him as the lead (if that makes any sense). “Adaptation” transcends the common film in that, like “Being John Malkovich,” it pushes the story on the brink of meta and lunacy while succeeding in captivating in audience in its realism. I never saw the Kaufman film on John Malkovich, but I saw his entry of “Anomalisa,” which I was severely disappointed in. He has a way of shocking the viewer by whatever means possible, be it a story of human life told by puppets or a story on a guy trying to adapt a story. Whatever the case is, Kaufman excels at doing what no one else is really doing in Hollywood, and for that I give him major props. I loved “Adaptation”; not only because it was original, but because it was smart. It’s one thing to create something unlike what we normally see, only for its story to fizzle or take advantage of the audience in the wrong way. There have been bad movies with original concepts before, and thankfully “Adaptation” is an exception. I knew vaguely what this picture was which is why I was drawn to it in the first place. It focuses on a screenwriter, played by Cage, who struggles to adapt a book on orchids and life. There’s really no plot to expel from the novel that would keep the source material intact and without any harsh dramatization, which is what Cage’s Kaufman wants to stray away from. This ordeal he struggles shares the screen with Meryl Streep’s Susan Orlean, who is seen researching the material for her book in scenes drawn from the past. The whole thing is arranged to walk the audience through both the inspiration for the story and the struggle to make it a feature film without discussing the feelings behind it with the author. However, there’s much more to it than that. What makes “Adaptation” so remarkable is how it is based on a real life circumstance. Charlie Kaufman had the daunting challenge of adapting the book “The Orchid Thief” in real life, only to frustratingly write a script with himself as the main character trying to formulate an adaptation of the same book he has to. Scenarios he possibly went through are written into the movie, even opening to the set of “Being John Malkovich,” which the fictional Kaufman stands on the sidelines watching being made. I love works of meta, but what makes this transcend the face of the art form is how it develops its characters around a central theme of self-consciousness and denial. Both our main characters, Kaufman and Orlean, struggle with different things but in the same sphere; Kaufman wants to grow out of his shell and Orlean wants to be comfortable with adapting, primarily in the interest of what she loves. The story is fast-paced, greatly acted, and pieced together exceptionally. It hardly misses a beat, until we reach the third act. Before we get to the end, this story is clearly about Kaufman trying to find confidence and clarity in himself through writing his adaptation. It leads to funny and sad moments that truly shape the character for the better (on top of that, Cage plays a twin brother as well, which is bizarre but appropriate for some reason). Once the third act approaches, we are swiftly shifted to a world outside the adaptation, where the real Kaufman (the one who wrote this film) pens a highly fictitious scenario to make things edgier and wrap things up in a way Hollywood would do it. That’s not to say it’s bad, for it kept me engaged at how crazy it became. However, I think the tonal shift knocked things off-balance. There’s a point in this movie where the story could’ve ended and I would’ve been fine (I’ll list it down below in a spoiler section). After that is when the outside situation involving action and thrills seep in, leading me to wonder why Kaufman ended it this way. Was it to play into the advice Cage’s character was receiving on how to write his screenplay? That’s all I can point to, if anything. Within the third act are some good character/emotional moments that offer solid closure, but the situation itself seemed too far out there for me to really enjoy it as much as I did the first two acts. Regardless, this is a great film filled with fantastic dialogue and solid performances by all involved. I was captivated throughout (which could’ve been in part to the subject matter) and would recommend people see it, if you’re looking for something original and out there. Kudos to Nic Cage for actually being apart of something great. FINAL SCORE: 93%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer:
As stated, I wanted to express when I thought the film could’ve ended (and I would’ve been fine with it). Once Kaufman reluctantly attends a conference on screenwriting towards the end of the second act, he meets with the speaker to discuss his issue with adapting a book. After a conversation in a bar, the speaker gives Kaufman advise on not only adding drama to the story, but also focusing on one thing that is interesting in the source material and expounding upon it, claiming that you can’t make a movie about nothing for life is about so much. Once this lesson is given, it only makes sense for Kaufman to finish his story, which he did. But, we end up getting thrown into a crazy situation where Kaufman follows Orlean to Florida and witnesses something he shouldn’t have, forcing him into a life-or-death situation.
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