... why I don't hate this film! It's pretentious, meandering, self-indulgent, self-referential -- everything that typifies post-modernist literature -- and plot-driven without a plot. But hate it I don't. I won't go so far as to say I love it, but I watched it intently and found myself defending it from a couple of people who thought it was "boring and confusing". It was not boring, to me at any rate, and not at all confusing. If anything, it might not have been confusing enough. The meta-meanings were awfully obvious.
The premise of the un-plot is that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has been hired to adapt a popular novel, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, but suffers pathetic 'writer's block' over the task, eventually becoming obsessed with the author, whom he's never met, and stalking her until he discovers a shocking secret. Well now, Charlie Kaufman is the actual screenwriter of Adaptation but "Charlie Kaufman" is played in the film by Nicolas Gage, who also plays Charlie Kaufman's twin brother "Donald", while the real Donald Kaufman is given shared credit for the screenplay. Susan Orlean is a real writer for The New Yorker magazine and she really did write a book titled The Orchid Thief. In the film, she's played by Meryl Streep. Ms. Orlean has to be a very Good Sport about her work, since it is "adapted" with demonic abandon and portrays her in activities (imagined) that must have scandalized her colleagues and friends. The film's Charlie Kaufman is neurotic to the point of comedy, which is in fact the chief point of the comedy. His brother is utterly neurosis-clean but a bit of a dimwit. The focal character of Orlean's book is a shady Floridian misfit named John Laroche, the 'Orchid Thief' of the title. Laroche is perceived on three levels by the film audience: as he is described by Orlean in her book, as he appears in the film in flashbacks being interviewed by Orlean for the book, and as he is envisioned by Kaufman on the basis only of reading the book under adaptation. Yes, it is a set of Chinese Boxes, mirrors reflecting mirrors, a play within a play within a play ...
... so why did I like it? For one thing, I expected it to be 'weird' and I almost knew I would like it. I sought it because I'd recently seen Charlie Kaufman's later movie "Synecdoche New York", which I considered the most interesting film of recent years. I'm working backwards through Kaufman's oeuvre. "Adaptation" isn't as good as "Synecdoche New York". In fact, it seems almost like a practice piece for the later film. But it's ambitious. AMBITIOUS! Precisely what most films, especially American film, are not. Its ambitions outweigh its pretensions. Also, the acting is incredibly good. Meryl Streep plays Susan Orlean as the evolving character the plot/unplot requires. Chris Cooper is perfect as Laroche; he's exactly the same person no matter who is perceiving him, and that person is as real as table salt. Nicolas Gage? Frankly, I didn't think the man could act at all. I thought he was one of those Hollywood icons who played the same guy, himself, in every film. Ho boy, he surprised me. In Adaptation he plays two guys, the two Kaufmans, side-by-side with totally different affect, plausibly distinct personalities. Even their sitting postures are distinguishable. The real Donald Kaufman, by the by, must be another Good Sport, considering what happens to his counterpart in the movie.
This is an intelligent movie, a movie for intellectual cinema fans. I can safely say that "you" will either relish its intelligence or find it painfully dull. But it won't be a choice that depends on the film; intelligence is in the mind of the beholder.
I just finished watching this terrific movie again. ADAPTATION is truly one of those movies that actually grows richer upon a second viewing. The first time I saw it, I was blown away by the fantastic acting and enjoyed trying to follow the dynamics of the movies. I say "dynamics" rather than twists and turns, because on the surface, there are no twists. The movie just unspools "realistically" with a generous dose of carefully labeled flashbacks. But underneath, what we're really seeing is a movie … more
Twisty brilliance from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, the team who createdBeing John Malkovich. Nicolas Cage returns to form with a funny, sad, and sneaky performance as Charlie Kaufman, a self-loathing screenwriter who has been hired to adapt Susan Orlean's bookThe Orchid Thiefinto a screenplay. Frustrated and infatuated by Orlean's elegant but plotless book (which is largely a rumination on flowers), Kaufman begins to write a screenplay about himself trying to write a screenplay aboutThe Orchid Thief, all the while hounded by his twin brother Donald (Cage again), who's cheerfully writing the kind of formulaic action movie that Kaufman finds repugnant. By its conclusion,Adaptationis the most artistically ambitious, most utterly cynical, and most uncategorizable movie ever to come out of Hollywood. Also starring Meryl Streep (as Susan Orlean), Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, and Brian Cox; superb performances throughout.--Bret Fetzer