Movie Review: Being John Malkovich (1999)


Title: Being John Malkovich
Release Date: October 29, 1999
Director: Spike Jonze
Production Company: Gramercy Pictures | Propaganda Films | Single Cell Pictures
Summary/Review:

Being John Malkovich is an extremely weird movie, perhaps even weird to revisit 20 years later when the real-life Malkovich is no longer a prominent celebrity.  This movie is so weird that I even forgot that there’s a chimpanzee in this movie named Elijah, and there’s even a scene of Elijah having a flashback.  The basic premise of this movie (and it’s heavy on premise) is that struggling puppeteer, Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), takes a job filing on the mysterious 7-1/2 floor of a New York City office building.  There he discovers a small door hidden behind a filing cabinet that serves as a portal into the mind of John Malkovich (John Malkovich).

Craig and his co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) start a business charging $200 a pop for people interested in being someone else for 15 minutes.  To complicate things further, both Craig and his wife Lottie (Cameron Diaz) fall in love with Maxine, but she is only attracted to them when they are inside Malkovich, creating – dare I say – a bizarre love quadrangle.  Being John Malkovich is a weird movie, but I wouldn’t say it’s weird for being weird as it goes to some unexpected places.  You could poke at the many plot holes in this movie (like, how do they keep driving to New Jersey so quickly), but where’s the fun in that.

This may be the first movie where Cusack isn’t playing a nice guy.  Not unlike Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, the movie takes advantage of our fondness for the actor to have the audience on his side even though he is a clearly messed-up individual.  I have to say as a content warning that there’s a scene where Craig beats on Lottie and that ties her up and puts her in a cage that is very disturbing.  But if you can get past that, Being John Malkovich is a funny, albeit unsettling, modern day fantasy film.

Rating: ****