Adaptation rated          HOT! HOT! HOT!
Early in Adaptation, screenwriter (real and fictional) Charlie Kaufman criticises his (fictional) twin brother Donald over an idea Donald has had for a film:  “how are you going to write it?” he asks, “It all happens in the head.”  That’s exactly what Kaufman does with Adaptation.  He gives us a movie that happens inside his head.
Adaptation is a film so full of epigrams that I found it hard to take notes – I’d miss too much.  It’s the best film I’ve seen for ages, and will no doubt be one of the best films of 2003.
Let’s start with the performances. Nicolas Cage plays the twins – so well that you stop looking for differences.  There are few differences physically, and many emotionally.  It’s one of his best performances, and it makes you realise that he’s usually better playing some kind of nutter.
Meryl Streep is wonderfully funny and subtle as some version of Susan Olean, the real-life New Yorker writer.
Chris Cooper is masterful as John Laroche, the orchid-hunter – a kind of Steve Irwin of the plant world.
Kaufman and director Spike Jonze have excelled themselves.  This is even better than their first team effort, Being John Malkovich (1999).  It is just as original and fresh and off-the-wall, but it is cleverer.
It seems that Jonze brings something special to Kaufman’s scripts – because the next film I saw after Adaptation was the Kaufman-written and Michel Goundry-directed Human Nature, which was pretty terrible really.  Funny, but to what end?  See my review
Screenwriting teacher Robert McKee comes in for some merciless ribbing in Adaptation.  He lays down rules such as “God help you if you use a voice-over in a script, my friend,” “Your characters must change and the change must come from them,” “You can get away with any script flaws as long as you wow them in the end” and “For God’s sake, don’t use a deus ex-machina.” (It has been pointed out that he may be aware that he is one!)
These are, of course, anathema to Kaufman and Jonze, who show the courage of their convictions in the last 20 minutes of the film, by applying various of McKee’s maxims to the screenplay, thereby wrecking the film.  This is one of the bravest acts I’ve ever witnessed by filmmakers.
So the film eats itself (shortly after Kaufman reminds us of the name of the mythological snake that swallowed itself – the Uroborus).  I think I’ve pinpointed the exact moment the film begins to fall apart.  Kaufman’s script tips us off.  One character says:
“We’ll have to kill him”
and another says:
“No we can’t”
“Yes, I will,” says the 1st character.
This is, of course, Donald Kaufman wrestling with Charlie Kaufman for control of the screenplay.  Should he sell out?  Well, this is Hollywood after all…
© Michèle M Asprey 2003

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