16 October 2009 | secondtake
Plot Construction as Protagonist--but what a fascinating construct. Pure brain food.
I adapted. I evolved. My second take on this movie was a turnaround from the first, when I thought it was needlessly complicated and self-absorbed. After all, the lead character is the screenwriter, and he's so full of himself and his self-pitying diary entries he has an identical twin to double the narcissism. I remembered enjoying it, but thinking it wheedling and grad school ultra-clever, too.
But that's not it at all. This is a movie that is all about plot construction but not about being inside the plot in the normal viewer-filmmaker way. For me, I couldn't just watch to see what was going to happen next. Things happen, there is a true climax of an ending, but it's how they happen that matters. The layering of time frames is paralleled by the layering of realities--until you realize that it's all real, and that the supposed movie being written is and isn't the movie we are watching. Or if it is, totally, and we see it's genesis on screen, it is still a screenplay about something real. Or not, once you see that the book, "The Orchid Thief," which is a real book by Susan Orlean, is not "Adaptation" at all, but just a thread for Kaufman to weave these different personalities and plots together.
Fiction or fact, who cares? Well, that's part of the film's cunning--there's even a cameo of John Malkovich at the start, and a shot of that famous Being John Malkovich set of the half sized floor 7 ½ in an office building. And for the record, there is a Ghost Orchid that grows in the Everglades, Polyrrhiza lindenii, and yes, you can now buy it legally from growers with greenhouses. But Charles Kaufman the very real screenwriter (Being John Malkovich, of course, and Synecdoche, New York) is played by an actor, Nicholas Cage, with Cage's usual nervous ticks and uneasiness. Perfect for this role.
But does it all work? On the brain, yes. It's fascinating and engrossing, the work of a screenwriter showing off his chops. Is there suspense? Not really, even though it involves thieves and guns and romance. More telling, do we care about the characters? Nope again. Not for me. I'm curious about these people--Meryl Streep as the writer of the book, and Chris Cooper as the orchid thief are both right on--but not worried about their survival, in love or in life. Still, I had to see every minute because I wanted to see how these very disparate characters were used to construct the construction, to force a point.
To say the movie isn't original or well done is foolish. The director? The redoubtable Spike Jonze, who seems to have let Kaufman lead the way, so the filming, per se, is excellent without being notable. You can't quite tell he's a television commercial director, but once you find that out it makes sense, and the movie is broken into short pieces not unlike your average t.v. experience.
To say Adaptation isn't to your taste is, of course, very reasonable. But if you can watch it the way I did the second time, open to its inner meanderings and the jumping from layer to layer, open that is to the working of the narrative plot stripped bare, you'll be glued.