Ah Kaufman, you’ve done it again.
Adaptation. (2002) is a dramedy sorta/kinda/not really based on the book The Orchid Thief, directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. It stars Nicholas Cage as Kaufman himself, who after the success of Being John Malkovich is in a writers slump trying to adapt Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) novel based on the life of John Laroche (Chris Cooper).
As meta ideas go, this is up there with Spaceballs watching Spaceballs in Spaceballs. Apparently based on Kaufman’s very real struggle to adapt the book for screen, Adaptation. is what can be described as a genius/maddening move by Kaufman deciding to write the film about how hard it was to write the film. While I can’t speak to how true it stays to the thematic ideas of the book (as I haven’t read it), but according to the original author while the plot may be extremely different, thematically it makes sense.
It being such a great idea (and being a Kaufman film) there is so much subtext and fascinating ideas to dive into. The offset of that is Adaption. is dense and will be a struggle for certain viewers. But if you’re like me, and anyone who is even mildly interested in the creative process, this is a movie that is genuinely rewarding to investigate.
As for the cast, Nicholas Cage is actually great. Yep, one of the few moments from the early 2000s where you could see the remnants of the fact he’s an Oscar winner before he went down the rabbit hole of his own weirdness. He actually plays a dual role in this film, playing both the lead role of Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald Kaufman. Not only are both characters are extremely distinct, they’re both engaging (and amusing) in their own ways. Meryl Streep is also great as Susan Orlean even if she’s just doing the usual Meryl Streep shtick. Hey, it works well. The real surprise however is Chris Cooper as the man at the centre of it all. He managed to nab a Best Supporting Oscar as Laroche and he really disappears into the persona of a passionate redneck thief to the point that it took me halfway through the first scene to register it was Cooper at all.
Speaking of Cage being comedic, this film is also legitimately funny. Don’t get me wrong, its not a comedy, but there’s a throughline of deadpan wit that Kaufman has managed to thread into the narrative. Its not conventional comedy, much like the movie isn’t a conventional drama, but it does add another layer of levity and engagement on top of an already interesting premise.
Much like Being John Malkovich and Anomalisa, Adaptation. proved to me yet again that Kaufman is one of the most fascinating writers of our time. While the premise is not going to be to everyone’s tastes, there’s a rich discussion on the the creative process and how to adapt, and backed up with a number of great performances and some surprise comedy and Adaption. is is an adaption worth seeing.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Cultists: Highly Recommended