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Adaptation (2002)

Directed by:

Spike Jonze

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 114 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States

Even though he hides it so well in many of his films, Nicolas Cage is an excellent actor. So it truly is a pleasure to see him put some of his dodgier stuff firmly behind him and play not one, but two wonderfully-observed characters in the mind-boggling Adaptation.

As you’d expect from the barmy mind that brought us Being John Malkovich, the whole thing’s as mad as a bag of spiders – but hugely intriguing with it. In a nutshell, Cage takes on the role of Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter struggling to undertake a project involving the big screen adaptation of a novel titled The Orchid Thief. Now, here’s where things start to get complicated. The movie that Charlie’s attempting to write is actually the one we’re watching unfold on screen – which, by the way, has been written by the real-life Charlie Kaufman. Cage also plays Charlie’s identical twin brother Donald – whose name appears in the opening credits as co-writer even though, in real-life, there is no Donald. Are you getting all of this? Sure? Good.

Meanwhile, regular flashbacks show us the story of how Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) came to write the original novel. She accompanies hick-with-a-brain John Laroche (Chris Cooper) as he drives around in a battered white van talking about orchids and, remarkably, manages to produce a best-selling novel out of what appears to be some painfully dull subject matter. I mean, who in their right mind would want to sit down and read a novel about orchids? I ask you.

As you’d expect, the two tales come together to produce more twists than a Chubby Checker concert, while all the while leading us deeper into Charlie’s dark, almost self-hating psyche.

Crucially, Charlie’s perma-sweating nervousness and obsession with being an overweight lug suffering from crippling writer’s block instantly puts to bed any suggestion of this being a self-indulgent project on the real Kaufman’s part. Cage pulls off the performance of a lifetime, while both Streep and Cooper are perfectly cast as the mismatched pair not quite as content in their everyday lives as they’d have the outside world believe.

It's Got: Dark humour and some marvellous twists and turns to keep you absorbed from start to finish.

It Needs: Extra credit for Brian Cox as foul-mouthed-yet-friendly screenwriting guru Robert McKee, and Ron Livingston for his brief comic turn as Charlie’s agent.

Alternatives:

Being John Malkovich

Summary

Funny, fascinating, emotional and at times even shocking – definitely a film not to be missed.

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