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The Greatest (and Weirdest) Love Story ever Told

  • Jun 11, 2002
Pros: Original, brilliant and funny without shamelessly plugging the main idea

Cons: The view through John's eyes

The Bottom Line: Is there anybody in there?

I would like nothing more than to meet the executive who greenlighted Being John Malkovich. I would like to walk up to him, shake his hand and compliment him for having the guts to even consider greenlighting some wierd fantasy that no other executive would have gone near in a radiation suit and a hundred-foot pole. I would like nothing more than to meet Charlie Kauffman, the man who wrote Being John Malkovich. I would like to walk up to him, shake his hand and offer him kudos on dreaming up a fantasy so wild, funny and ridiculously simple that even the greatest screenwriters who ever lived never would have thought of it.

I am now going to confess how much I love weird movies that most other people seem to hate. I think The Matrix is the most original, creative sci-fi film ever made. I thought Fight Club was a truly provocative film that everyone should see. I liked Terry Gilliam's Brazil. And I think the Coen brothers should recieve some sort of lifetime achievment award. But of all those films, Being John Malkovich is the only one that takes such a stupidly simple concept and turns it into something watchable and entertaining.

No, Being John Malkovich is not a documentary about being John Malkovich. In fact, the movie isn't even about John Malkovich at all, really. John Malkovich in the movie seems to be no less a character than Cyrus "the Virus" Grissom, the criminal Malkovich portrayed in Con Air. But don't take my word for it, because I have no idea what the man does in his personal time.

In Being John Malkovich, John Malkovich simply has a portal on the seventh and a half floor of a building that leads into his head, thus allowing whoever accesses it to jump into his skin for fifteen minutes before being dumped out at the New Jersey turnpike. This portal is discovered by Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), a struggling puppetteer who has taken a job as a filing clerk on floor seven and a half. Craig discovers the portal when he drops a file behind a cabinet one day. Upon being dropped at the New Jersey turnpike, he immediatly runs back to the office and tells his co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) about his discovery and the two of them go into business together, charging people to take trips into Malkovich's head, 200 dollars a pop. It seems all well and good from the outside, but the reason Craig is there is because he is attracted to Maxine. This is already a problem, considering Craig's marraige to Lotte (a surprisingly homly Cameron Diaz) and the fact that Maxine wouldn't touch Craig with a ten-foot pole (Lotte's words).

Unfortunately, Craig complicates things even farther one night when he allows Lotte to take a trip into Malkovich's head, where she feels disturbingly comfortable. Then Maxine begins the act of seducing Malkovich. Maxine becomes smitten with Lotte, saying she knows it's her in there. Things continue to spiral out of control when Craig starts tying Lotte up so he can be Malkovich when they have sex. Eventually, Craig figures out how to control Malkovich.

And just where is Malkovich in the middle of all this? He knows something's up. The first time Craig moves his arm, he freaks out and pours out his paranoia to, of all people, Charlie Sheen, who nonchalantly insists that Malkovich was drugged. But Malkovich knows better, and he eventually catches on to the scheme, going down to Craig's office and through the portal into his own head. What he sees terrifies him, and he threatens to sue Craig if him and Maxine don't shut down their business. Eventually, though, he becomes nothing more than a pawn in the love triangle.

Does all this sound confusing? I'm sure then general concept is. Then you have the explanations of what the portal's purpose is and how it works and all those other nice scientific little goodies. But you don't have to worry about not being able to understand anything-the movie is very straightforward, so you won't have any trouble following it, and as for all the science stuff, it's all kept remarkebly simple.

The direction is amazing, by the way. There seems to be some kind of supernatural aura hovering over the entire film. And when Craig makes his first trip into Malkovich's head, we get to see the world through literally through his eyes, eyeholes notwithstanding. And you know what? I really can't figure out why everyone is so intrigued and excited about the idea of going into his head, or why they think the experience is so incredible. The first time we see the world according to John Malkovich, he eats toast, drinks coffee and sets out, catching a cab to get to work. The second time we see through Malkovich's eyes, he showers. But you still have to give Spike Jonze credit for the job he did. I can name a lot of other directors who would have tried to make this into a thinking man's film or make it into some sweeping dark drama, or maybe even both.

Doesn't the casting seem a little unusual here? Cameron Diaz gets to play the homly, animal obsessed wife of John Cusack while Catherine Keener gets to be the sex object, weilding her bust like one of Schwartzanegger's summer blockbuster guns? Yeah, whatever, say what you will, but they both work wonders in their parts. Personally, I couldn't have imagined Diaz playing the part of Maxine, as Maxine is way too quick witted, spewing out her dialogue like a machine gun. And I know no one could ever think of Diaz as being anything other than a hot sex object, but here the makeup artists succeeded in making her homly. Not ugly, mind you, but homely enough to make your eyes drift toward Keener whenever she's onscreen. And, although I'm sure it was tough to get just the right actor to portray John Malkovich, they managed to do it. Malkovich is played by some guy named John Malkovich, who seems to have the time of his life. Watching Malkovich play a parody of himself makes this film worth at least an extended rental.

What is there to say now? I fell in love with Being John Malkovich the day I first saw it, and I consider it one of the great films of the twentieth century. But then again, I'm an unusual person. This may be one of those love it or hate it films, but you won't know until you see it. That said, I close by repeating the last sentence in the last paragraph.


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More Being John Malkovich reviews
review by . May 12, 2000
Pros: Unique, challenging     Cons: Really really strange, adult situations     My mouth was hanging open with astonishment. I said "Oh my God," probably fifty times. It has been a long time since a movie flat slapped me stupid and got my attention in such a major way.      I've heard that there's nothing new under the sun, but I'd like to know the historical precedents that pertain to Being John Malkovich.      …
review by . January 18, 2000
Pros: Cameron Diaz, John Cusak     Cons: Not for "regular folks", must be slightly demented to enjoy     Hmmm.... on the way back from seeing this jaw dropper of a film, no one in the car could think of anything to say. No kidding, we all drove back to the house in total silence. That's how I feel about this film.      It's bizarre, introspective, hysterically funny, icky, and wonderful all rolled up into one. There is really …
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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #17
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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