Film of the Day - Adaptation.


Nicolas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman

Cage and Cage as Kaufman and Kaufman in Adaptation

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

21 February

 

 

The New Yorker launches, 1925

On this day in 1925, The New Yorker magazine was launched by Harold Ross and Jane Grant. Intended as a cosmopolitan magazine for the urban sophisticate – and those who aspired so to be – it started out as a broadly humorous publication, though quickly shifted its focus towards quality fiction and long-form journalism, though its cartoons have remained a key feature. Unafraid to be thought of as intelligent, educated and interested in a magazine world that largely pretends to the opposite, it could take its pick of a certain type of writer – Hannah Arendt wrote her long-form piece on the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker, James Thurber contributed cartoons, Salinger, Nabokov and Hemingway sent in short stories.

 

 

 

Adaptation (2002, dir: Spike Jonze)

Adapted from a piece for The New Yorker by Susan Orlean called The Orchid Thief, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s film takes a distinctly New Yorker approach – intelligent and entertaining – to tell the story of… what exactly? At one level it is Orlean’s story, of a thief (Chris Cooper) so driven by his thirst for the rare exotic plant that he’ll pay anything, go anywhere, even kill to get hold of what he wants. On another level it’s the story of writer Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt the New Yorker piece he has read into the film we are watching. And sitting side-by-side with that story we have Charlie’s brother, Donald, also a writer, but a pen-for-hire keen to bolt together a Hollywood blockbuster by following the screenwriting edicts of Robert McKee (played as a stiletto to the McKee system by Brian Cox). Both Kaufmans are played by Nicolas Cage and in real life Kaufman doesn’t have a brother called Donald, so we can kind of guess that Charlie is pulling a “two sides of the same coin” number here – sure he writes for pleasure, but he also wants to get paid. There is more plot than this, notably featuring Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean – with whom fictional Charlie has developed an obsession – plus John Cusack and Catherine Keener as themselves, sort of. The whole thing takes that reality/fiction/actor/character shtick worked so well by Jonze and Kaufman in Being John Malkovich (in which JM played a version of himself) about two levels further. It’s a virtuoso plate-spinning exercise, with Cage admirably suited by virtue of his independently swivelling eyes to play a man who is losing sleep, weight and neurons trying to work out where to go next. Personally, I don’t think Kaufman (the screenwriter) quite manages to extract himself (the character) from the tangle he eventually winds up in, though plenty think the ridiculous, funny guns-ablazing finale to the film is entirely appropriate. Robert McKee would probably love it.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Surely the Charlie Kaufman film par excellence
  • One in the eye for auteur theorists
  • Donald Kaufman gets a screen credit, even though he doesn’t exist
  • Look out for an uncredited John Malkovich

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Adaptation – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

imdb poster Adaptation.
Adaptation. (2002)
Run time: 114 min
Rating: 7.8
Genres: Comedy | Crime | Drama
Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Susan Orlean, Charlie Kaufman
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
Trivia: A love-lorn script writer grows increasingly desperate in his quest to adapt the book ‘The Orchid Thief’.
Storyline While his latest movie Being John Malkovich (1999) is in production, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is hired by Valerie Thomas to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book “The Orchid Thief” for the screen. Thomas bought the movie rights before Orlean wrote the book, when it was only an article in The New Yorker. The book details the story of rare orchid hunter John Laroche, whose passion for orchids and horticulture made Orlean discover passion and beauty for the first time in her life. Charlie wants to be faithful to the book in his adaptation, but despite Laroche himself being an interesting character in his own right, Charlie is having difficulty finding enough material in Laroche to fill a movie, while equally not having enough to say cinematically about the beauty of orchids. At the same time, Charlie is going through other issues in his life. His insecurity as a person doesn’t allow him to act upon his feelings for Amelia Kavan, who is interested in him as a man. And Charlie’s twin … Written by Huggo
Plot Keywords: orchid, book, screenwriter, thief, twin
Box Office Budget: $19,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: $21,240 (Hong Kong) (6 June 2003)
Gross: $89,971 (Hong Kong) (13 June 2003)