Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Adaptation (IMDB) (Netflix)
Every writer has a story about being blocked—the humorist Robert Benchley supposedly started one such day by typing "The" on a fresh sheet of paper, stopped, went to a bar and drank himself stupid, returned to the typewriter that evening newly inspired and continued with "hell with it." Then he went to bed. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (a real person who wrote Being John Malkovich and the upcoming Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) has to adapt "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean (a real author, played by Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper is the real-life orchid obsessive John LaRoche). Played by Nicholas Cage, Charlie is a successful but self-conscious wreck on his best days who can't get a handle on how to approach the screenplay. Adding to his misery is twin brother Donald, who decides to also take up Charlie's profession, but blithely foregoing the angst of realizing how hard this stuff is to do.

It may be a common premise and seemingly too self-referential, but the Kaufman boys (the real ones--correction, Charlie's real, Donald isn't, but shares screenwriting credits, which is a clue for what's in store) sail from humorous reality for more absurd shores, spinning into a recursive loop that tickles the brain and tweaks the screenwriting game, including real-life guru Robert McKee. The fun comes from being in on the joke, and is essential for appreciating the third act. Director Spike Jonze is a clear match for this kind of conceptual material because he can do it without being campy, and Cage's innate intensity serves him well, especially when he's playing Charlie. Lots of fun.