Saturday, March 06, 2010

566 - You Aught to Know - Adaptation - #3

Adaptation, Spike Jonze, 2002, 59 points

James sits at his computer in despair. Fat, Amish-bearded, a face a mother couldn't love. Not terribly bright. Nothing to say about Adaptation. He tries so hard to write interesting stuff but he's not fooling anyone. Has to come up with something quick or his ego's spiral into oblivion will accelerate to even greater speeds. He begins to type:

It began a joke as sorts, or at least that's how it seemed to me. Unable to make a satisfying adaptation of Susan Orlean's nonfiction novel The Orchid Thief, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman wrote a script about himself failing to adapt the book. In retrospect, is there anyone who would dare to argue that the original project would have been even a tenth as interesting as what did turn out, an ingenious commentary on the travails of writing and cinematic convention? Kaufman's onscreen alter-ego agonizes over his inability to create the movie he wants, with the result unfolding in the mother of all cinematic meta-commentaries before our eyes, a film about the writing of the film. It's side-splitting and perfectly rendered on all levels as the film's fabric morphs into a perfect example of what Kaufman didn't want to write a movie about, drugs and violence and lurid sex. But by the time Kaufman and director Spike Jonze allow the plot to complete its transformation into the sort of machine-made thriller that Charlie reserves so much vitriol for, it's difficult to notice, so absorbing are the characters, brought to life with the best collection of performances in the entire aughts (Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, and Nic Cage again!). That they don't allow the satire to interfere with this final act at all is a bit of uncanny wisdom, a reminder that we want to see characters we care about put through the wringer, even if that's not how real life always turns out. - James Frazier

I wanted to put one of Charlie Kaufman's films into my list. I love surrealism, and I love the unique view of love that Kaufman shows us in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, however I went with Adaptation. While Eternal Sunshine is literally surreal, "Adaptation" is surreal in a more abstract way. The film is about a man named Charlie who is writing a film adaptation of a book, and it is revealed that the film he is writing is the very film we are watching, which is a delicious infinitely recursive story. We have seen photographs of people holding the photo we are looking at, and the story of this film is like a literary version of such a photograph. Comically absurd in some parts and tragic in others, we see Charlie endure a difficult period in his life and in the end, he overcomes his fears and at the same time concludes his story (and therefore the film also ends). It leaves one wondering how much of the film is based on the real-life events of the screenplay writer (not much apparently). For being unique, memorable, and in many ways very true to life, I include this film in my top-ten of the decade. - Ramin Honary

Charlie Kaufman writes the most cerebral, meditative, thought-provoking movies out there. Unfortunately, Adaptation is the only one that’s succeeded. But its success is above and beyond. Like countless great works throughout history, Adaptation is a fiction within a fiction, a writer with writer’s block, frustrated at Hollywood story conventions as the plot reflects his feelings and knowingly travels down a Hollywood story path. Perhaps an explanation of the labyrinthine yet lucid plot would be too much. Adaptation is a critical treatment of movies, of writing, of life. Besides, the performances by Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper cannot be missed. - Dustin Lilleskov

I am a writer and I like movies. I like this movie. Watch the scene where Charlie is inspired by going to a screenwriter’s workshop and you will probably understand why I like this movie so much. - Aaron McNally

Next time on You Aught to Know: I must have forgot.

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