[MOVIE REVIEW]Pretentious, spoiled ― and that’s a good thingCharlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) is in a rut. He’s just written a hit screenplay, praised by many as the comedy of the year (“Being John Malkovich,” 1999). But what next?
His new project is giving him severe writer’s block. He’s set to write the screen adaptation of a best-selling novel by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), about a peculiar Florida orchid grower and his rather unsavory cultivation habits ― “The Orchid Thief,” an actual novel.
This uneasy blend of fact and fiction is part of the film’s ingenuity ― screenwriter Charlie Kaufman did actually write the “Malkovich” screenplay, and was then assigned to the Orlean adaptation. But as the film goes on, fact increasingly gives way to fiction, as Charlie’s delusions takes over.
The film could have been a pretentious exercise in self-indulgence ― which, in part, the film almost wants to be. After all, “Malkovich” wasn’t exactly the most accessible comedy, either. But “Adaptation” instead renders itself an amusing meditation on the creative process gone terribly awry.
The movie takes us back to the creation of the “The Orchid Thief,” with Orlean trudging into the swampy Everglades to seek out a toothless, philosophizing orchid thief, John Laroche (an amazing performance by veteran character actor Chris Cooper), whose strange world opens up new possibilities within her own. And when her reality melds with Charlie’s fevered imagination, and the orchid guru starts teaching her lessons about swamp lovin’, watch out!
Back in the present, Charlie is still stuck, and the advice offered by his idiot twin brother Donald (also Nicholas Cage), who’s having great luck with his seemingly witless screenplays, isn’t helping matters. But idiot starts to look more like idiot savant when Charlie, desperate, finally succumbs to his brother’s dumbed-down version of writing a film script.
One of the film’s greatest moments comes when Orlean imbibes a narcotic made from the “special” orchid, given to her by Laroche. Her giddy, drug-induced ramblings, as she lies in bed and contemplates her toes, are priceless.
But the film works best when it quietly delivers pithy observations about life, in the guise of simple talk about things such as which way the orchids are growing.
I won’t spoil the ending, but will tell you that the ending spoils the movie. Which isn’t actually a bad thing if you can accept the film’s particular terms (if that makes sense). It’s exactly how the film wants to end, viewer be damned.
All in all, Mr. Cage wallows well, as he has done in previous roles, but this time plays it for laughs. Ms. Streep chills out, toning down her electric intensity for one of her most natural performances. And everyone has a good time.
by Jason Zahorchak