What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
First, it seems helpful to clear up what's real and what's fictional in the world of Adaptation prior to settling in to watching it. I have no way of doing this with 100% accuracy, so I'll just go on hearsay and my own impressions and beliefs having watched the movie.
True: Charlie Kaufman is the real-life screenwriter who, along with director Spike Jonze, created that self-referential weirdness, Being John Malkovich.
Supposedly true: Kaufman is hired to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, an actual, real-life best-selling book by Susan Orlean about a quirky orchid poacher named John Laroche.
Also supposedly true: Kaufman has a brother, Doug
who really exists, and who co-wrote Adaptation, the film that sprung
from the attempt to turn Orlean's largely plotless book into a
Add to this self-referential framework the fact that Kaufman is dismally neurotic, self-deprecating, and self-loathing. The film starts with his voice-over engaged in negative self-talk--more self-reference--about his receding hairline, his paunchiness, his lack of talent as a writer, etc. We would assume that this is all true, that Kaufman is neurotic in a Woody-Allen way, and that he's actually even less attractive than Nicolas Cage in creepy mode. Though bleak, these voice-overs are delicately funny.
While Kaufman tries to write the screenplay that eventually turns into the movie, Adaptation, Kaufman's brother, Doug, also played by Cage, makes a pest of himself. Doug has taken one of those weekend screenwriting courses and has set out to write some psycho spy thriller, the kind of cinematic pap that Charlie Kaufman cringes at with all the supposed superiority of his genius.
The film is also peppered with depictions of John Laroche (Chris Cooper); Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep; and the film's producer, played by Tilda Swinton (who I find totally alluring). Adaptation manages to bring in images of flowers and to render at least a cursory telling of the book's basic gist through direct quotes from it and segments of reenactment. (I glean this from skimming the sample pages of The Orchid Thief online, something that Kaufman could have done, too, in order to achieve the same extent of textual delving that the film delivers.)
The film takes a turn, though. At his worst moment of writer's block, Kaufman himself attends the seminar that Doug has been raving about. In a drunken conversation with its facilitator, who may or may not be fictional for all I care, he is told that the way to make a blockbuster is to deliver a great ending.
Therefore, the film places a foot firmly on the platform of self-reference
that it has created and leaps from there out of the real and into the
realm of pure fiction. The transition happens suddenly. I noticed exactly
when the film swung about and headed on a course to the land of make
believe. As a viewer, I felt included in the departure for fictional
lands. I knew to take everything as make-believe as soon as Kaufman
began inventing the seamy, untold tale behind Orlean's book.
What kind of whammies? Shootings, car crashes, alligator attacks, drugs, scandal, and even a heavy emotional moral delivered gracefully by Cage as Doug. People who read and liked Orlean's book better know what they're getting into before they watch this. It's nothing like the book. Perhaps that was one of Kaufman's intentions. About The Color Purple and The English Patient, for examples, you can say, "The book was better." But in this case, there are no grounds for any comparison at all.
I didn't find this film off-putting at all. The heady-ness wasn't taxing, and the self-reference was clever. The entire cast turns in good acting, and there is a good deal of humor. You also get the sense of plot unfolding as the circumstances depicted begin to fall into place. Once everything is in place, you travel with the film into Phase II, where the movie turns Hollywood, but in a self-aware, ironic way. It's a good movie, overall. I say that without the least bit of sarcasm. I mean that, truly. Really.
©2003 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.