By Joe Lozito
The Write Stuff
How do you review a film written by Charlie Kaufman, let alone a film about Charlie Kaufman trying to write a film? Do you write a review about writing reviews? Do you critique your review as you're writing it? Or maybe you deconstruct the process of writing a review of a film which is about the process of writing...or more specifically, writer's block. I gotta admit, I don't know where to begin, but here goes: "Adaptation" is, apparently, Mr. Kaufman's attempt to adapt the book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean into a screenplay. Mr. Kaufman, at least the one in the film (played by Nicolas Cage, finally back to "Leaving Las Vegas" standards), finds the novel is really just about flowers, with little or no driving narrative. "Make one up!" he is told by his smug agent (Ron Livingston). But Mr. Kaufman doesn't want to make just another Hollywood movie where a character has an epiphany or struggles with life lessons or, worse yet, has a car chase. So, what does he do? Well, I won't tell you. This film is a journey into the all-consuming process of creation. Creation of a screenplay and perhaps the creation of any living thing, from the impossibly rare "ghost orchid" which is out of reach of Ms. Orlean (who also appears in the film, played joyfully by Meryl Streep) to the relationship between a man and a woman.
Mr. Kaufman teams up again with his "Being John Malkovich" director, Spike Jonze. Mr. Jonze's playful style is a perfect match for Mr. Kaufman's brand of lunacy as well as the performance by Nicolas Cage who, at long last has returned to acting. Mr. Cage is given the Herculean task of playing not only Mr. Kaufman himself but also his fictitious (I think) twin brother Donald (who is also given writing credit for the film). Without any make-up tricks, Mr. Cage seems to effortlessly create two distinct characters and consistently maintain them through extended conversations and even some very moving moments. Rounding out the excellent cast is Chris Cooper as the perfectly surly Orchid hunter John LaRoche and Brian Cox as a bombastic interpretation of real-life writing seminar mainstay Robert McKee.
It bears mentioning that the last third of the film spirals nearly out of control. At first you may think that the film cops out, succumbs to its own vices or maybe just finds itself painted into a corner from which there is no escape. Regardless, it will keep you thinking, guessing and, most importantly, watching. It's almost mind-numbing to think how Mr. Kaufman could possibly follow-up this gem. I'm just glad I don't have to write it, but I'd be happy to watch what he goes through to create it.