Coming off the success of Being John Malcovich, writer Charlie Kaufman took on the task of adapting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief to film. Unable to convey Orlean’s prose and the concept of flowers to a screenplay, Kaufman stuck himself in the story and wrote a screenplay about Adaptation (2002) instead. Or so Kaufman would like us to believe. After some rumination on the nature of adaptation (and adaptation in nature) the film concludes with an over-the-top Hollywood finish written by Kaufman’s fictional twin brother. That Kaufman is one of the cleverest writers in the movies today makes me think he planned this all along. After all he made Being John Malcovich defy disbelief and was able to make Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind much more than it’s clever yet contrived premise.
Anyhow, Adaptation is a funny and introspective movie about writing, about being shy and timid, and about how writers and filmmakers toy with the minds of their audiences. In this last sense it reminds me a lot of Robert Altman’s The Player which also a uses a lot of narrative trickery to question the difference between film and reality. The two movies would make a good double feature, although I think Adaptation is the better of the two because it’s a whole lot less self-congratulatory about it.
Anna at Isak recently wrote a review of The Orchid Thief, a book I’ve not yet read but one that is probably much different than what’s portrayed in the film. You’ve got to wonder what Orlean thought of the portrayal of herself in Adaptation. I hope it made her laugh.
Update on 24 August
A few additional points I did not make in my original review:
- I usually do not like Nicholas Cage, but he is excellent in this movie in the dual roles of Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Being shy and timid myself, I think he captures that aspect of personality well.
- There are a couple of graphic depictions of car accidents in this film that makes it sort of a horror film for people like myself who are phobic about automobiles.
- I did a little research (a.k.a. Google) and learned that Susan Orlean and John LaRoche love the movie and its depictions of themselves. Here’s a relavent interview.