Monday, December 31, 2012
MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Adaptation
Having been disappointed with Spike Jonze's 2 other films, I was a bit wary of watching "Adaptation". To my surprise, I ended up being incredibly fascinated by this film. This semi-autobiographical film tells the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (who wrote this movie) who is struggling to adapt a real-life story called The Orchid Thief into a movie. He finds difficulty in making the script interesting and eventually has to turn to his twin brother Donald for help. The Orchid Thief is a true story based on journalist Susan Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) and her investigation of a plant poacher named John Laroche (played by Chris Cooper).
In addition to keeping all these real persons and their names, the film also includes fictional elements (Donald Kaufman is completely made up) which mirrors Charlie's (the movie character played by Nicolas Cage) attempts to write an interesting script. Kaufman wants to write an unconventional story about flowers in an effort to set himself apart from the typical forced dramas, but finds his script lacking. The whole concept of Adaptation's plot seems so "navel-gazing", but somehow it manages to pull in the viewer. There wasn't a moment in this film where I wasn't intrigued by what was happening on screen. The screenplay is rich, coming across like Kaufman himself is giving us a look into his ponderous mind (much like "Being John Malkovich"). If you really probe the ideas of this film, you will get much to think about. The main thing however, is the notion of interest and fascination for something in your life. For Susan (played beautifully by Streep), she longs for the level of dedication that her writing subject Laroche has for plants. Meanwhile, Charlie is concerned about whether the eventual audience of the film will be intrigued by his work. There's an interesting scene in the film, where he reluctantly attends a screenwriting seminar as a desperate attempt for inspiration. As he explains his ideas for his rather mundane story, the lecturer vehemently rejects his notion that a film can sustain itself without conflict and passionate characters. Interestingly, this seems to be the point where the film engages in self-reflection and delves more into the wonderful characters. It's like the real-world Charlie Kaufman has come to the realization that his excellent cast should be the focal point of the film. We the audience have long understood this, but it's a fantastic "meta" scene that really propels the film further.
Without going into detail about each performance, all I will say is that all the key performers (i.e. Cage, Streep and Cooper) are truly doing some of their best work. As Cage's character learns during the seminar, it's the human drama that keeps audiences captivated. This really bears fruit as the film builds to a moving conclusion filled with genuine emotion. For me, this is Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's best film to date. Even though Kaufman's script seems like it should be too personal to be engaging, somehow it works.