Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Adaptation (2002)

I have to admit, I felt a little cheated by Adaptation. It wasn't so much that the reality Charlie Kaufman showed us, i.e. the writing of the script, was completely made up. It was that the initial premise, which was wonderfully self-involved and contained so much promise, gives way to inane hi-jinks which pull the film away from what it seems to be about.

What is seems to be about is the identity of the writer. It's a very good meditation on the writer's task, both as regards Susan Orlean (the true-life author of The Orchid Thief whose fictional counterpart is played by Meryl Streep) and Charlie Kaufman (portrayed by Nicolas Cage). It, and here's where the self-indulgence comes is, delves into the process of writing faced with trepidation by Kaufman, confused tenacity by Orlean, and aplomb by Kaufman's (fictional) twin brother (also Cage). Kaufman splits his own identity between these writers and what results is a meta-text on, you guessed it, adaptation.

So far, so good. Cage is funny, though he ought to have been played by Paul Giamatti as that who Cage seems to be modeling. Streep is good as usual, and Chris Cooper is great as the orchid thief himself, John Laroche, who keeps insisting that "I should play me" in the movie. The play between the real and the fictional is great, as Kaufman makes up much of the plot and many characters but bases others on real life with real names. And in the end, his struggle is real and recognizable to writers or others who struggle creatively.

But it falls apart in the final act. When Charlie, who seems to be on a voyage of self-discovery as a writer, finally gets up the courage to meet the woman he's writing about, all probability breaks loose and Kaufman's unable to stuff any of it back into his script. Why a movie about writing requires a chase scene and a drug operation, I have no idea. And that confusion, rather different from the inherent confusion of the premise which is necessary and to the point, makes the film weaker. I wanted to love this film, and for the first hour and a half or so I did. The memory of that final betrayal of my commitment, however, will keep me from seeing it again.

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