MOVIE REVIEW: “Being John Malkovich” stars John Cusack (Say Anything, Love & Mercy), Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary, Vanilla Sky), Catherine Keener (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Get Out), John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire, Dangerous Liaisons), Orson Bean (Innerspace, The Hobbit ), Mary Kay Place (Girl Interrupted, The Big Chill), and Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men [TV series], Wall Street). It is directed by Spike Jonze (Her, Where the Wild Things Are) and written by Charlie Kauffman (Adaptation., Anomalisa).
A puppeteer (Cusack) discovers a hidden door in the office building he works at that leads into the mind of John Malkovich.
It seemed only fitting to end the year of 2020 with a movie of similar wildness: “Being John Malkovich.” What is this film…
Kauffman impressed me with his unique meta entry of “Adaptation.” Its oddball spontaneity (and at times, relatability) intrigued my writer’s brain, and since then I sought to see some of his other works. Specifically, this one, which also garnered Oscar buzz back when it was released. Who would’ve thought that a whacky movie such as this would be nominated for an Academy Award? I guess it just goes to show how unpredictable Hollywood can be.
As you can tell by the short synopsis above, this is a pretty straightforward story… yeah, right. I’ve seen some weird movies in my day (“Swiss Army Man,” “Gentlemen Broncos”), but nothing could have prepared me for “Being John Malkovich.” The characters are strange, the setting humorous, and the narrative chaotic. It bends and weaves down a path that I can never predict; just when I thought I got a grasp on how the story could unfold, I am saddled with a surprising development. There’s no taming this film. Only riding the wave as it pulls and crashes. And there was much promise to be found with it, if it weren’t for the extremes Kauffman and Jonze took it to.
The first act of this film is downright spectacular. Regardless of how the whole picture is, Kauffman has a knack for the awkward, out-there humor that I lean towards. I was laughing my butt off. The characters are written wonderfully, playing into the world that Kauffman has created in a spectacular fashion. And that world is also a character, with a particular setting that had me grinning from ear to ear with just how unnecessarily fun it was (the 7 1/2 floor). I couldn’t help but think to myself, “this is the movie I would make.” That is, until the plot progressed.
With a story such as this, you should expect to be sent down a rabbit hole. I knew that it could only get weirder (I mean, Cusack opens a door to Malkovich’s mind for Pete’s sake), but what I didn’t suspect was the choice Kauffman would make with his characters and the love they would seek. “Being John Malkovich” is, at its core, about how people would rather be someone else than live out their own existence; particularly, the life of a celebrity. It’s a great theme that I thought was portrayed creatively and intricately. There were questions proposed that put me on the edge of my seat as to how they could be executed (“what would happen if John Malkovich went into his own mind?”), and I commend Kauffman on always keeping me engaged until the end. But of course, my respect for the storyline wained as the conflict at large began to shift to a relationship angle involving Diaz and Keener. Now, I’ve seen romance explored in many different ways on the screen (Jonze himself also directed “Her”), but the bond between the characters Diaz and Keener portray left me extremely uncomfortable. In fact, the whole romanticism of John Malkovich’s body was… a bit too much for me. For that to eventually consume the narrative left me disappointed, as I found the exploration/exploitation of this theme Kauffman presented at the forefront to be quite fantastical.
There’s a ton to admire about “Being John Malkovich.” The performances are great (however, I could never grasp Keener’s character of Maxine), the puppetry elements are amazing, and the creativity of this story led to some unforgettable moments. I applaud the crew for crafting something incredibly original; I just wish I found it enjoyable all the way through. It’s a tad hard to block the uncomfortable stuff, but if you’re willing to do so (and have an interest in the zany), I’d say to at least check it out. Maybe even look up some clips. Because this is a movie that I can see myself talking about scenes and hoping the person I’m conversating with has watched it. FINAL SCORE: 79%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: