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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Adaptation. (2002)


Even better than advertised

Alright, let's just get the honorifics out of the way right now: Adaptation is as smart as Election, as endearing as Rushmore, and as original as, well, anything I've ever seen all at the same time. It's a testament to how much a clever idea can make a movie, but it has a lot more going for it that that. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has written himself into a movie about writing himself into a movie, and if that sounds like a pretentious idea it's because it is. But at the same time, Adaptation more than holds its own in the areas of wit, characterization, and plot development. Its concept is decidedly highbrow and unquestionably outlandish, but at the same time Adaptation is a boldly unconventional, relentlessly unpredictable, and unapologetically quirky movie.

So, what exactly is Adaptation about? Well, here's a partial list: creativity, self-loathing, emotional attachment, forbidden love, fraternal relations, the movie industry drug use, and last but not least, flowers. Of course, that's not all it's about, either, as there is a plot holding everything together. Adaptation mainly centers around Charlie Kaufman's attempts to adapt Susan Orleans's book The Orchid Thief into a movie while simultaneously trying to tune out his twin brother Donald as Donald attempts to write a screenplay of his own. After some, er, questionable decisions in recent years (Gone In 60 Seconds, anyone?), Nicolas Cage apparently once again finds his niche here, pulling off the difficult task of portaying the polar opposites of the tormented artiste Charlie and the charming hack Donald in a dual role that has an awful lot to say about the nature of creative genius. The rest of the movie notwithstanding, Charlie's frenetic inner monologue alone is practically worth the price of admission.

That said, there's plenty more going on in this movie, well more than can be easily encapsulated in a simple review. Constantly leaping back and forth in time and blurring the line between fiction and reality until it's difficult to tell which is which, Adaptation is considerably more challenging than even Kaufman's latest effort, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which wasn't exactly an easy watch itself. Various plots are juggled in a seemingly haphazard manner, but seeing them all come together in the end makes for much of the fun of watching. More to the point, the movie never sacrificies emotional depth or humor for the sake of cleverness, largely avoiding the self-congratulatory air that has doomed so many lesser movies of its ilk (this means you, Lost in Translation). It certainly doesn't hurt that there are startingly authentic performances from skilled actors like Merryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and Bryan Cox on display, or that the insanely adorable Maggie Gyllenhaal is around in a minor role.

Now, before I take my leave I should stress that Adaptation is most certainly not a movie for everyone. If you favor movies with conventional storylines, fast-paced plots, or lots of action, you probably will not like this one. But, if you're in the mood for something different, Adaptation should not be missed. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is worth checking out as well. By Wheelchair Assassin


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