Adaptation is a film about itself. After having written the highly successful Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman is attempting to stretch himself artistically – not wanting to purely write weird oddball scripts, he takes up the challenge of adapting Susan Orlean’s best-selling book ‘The Orchid Thief’. He fails. Instead he writes a film about him trying to adapt ‘The Orchid Thief’’. We see Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) attempting to write the screenplay for ‘The Orchid Thief’, and then we see him in response to his struggles trying to write the script which becomes Adaptation. Does that make sense?
The first time that I saw Adaptation I knew that I liked it; it was funny, smart, and surprisingly moving. The second time around, I loved it. The apparent ease with which the film navigates the confusing subject matter is beyond impressive, but it also scores highly on having a fantastic cast, an insightful look into the writing process, and a touching, almost poignant storyline. Luckily the film isn’t purely about its own writing process; its focus thankfully is on its characters and their relationships with one another. The meta plot structure is of course highly relevant to the film, and a lot of fun is had with it, but it never becomes overbearing and is handled with such deftness as to avoid sinking into being a mere display of cleverness.
Nicholas Cage gives one of his best performances here as the struggling Kaufman, and also as his twin brother Donald. Both characters are layered and well thought out; they’re endearing, tragic, and hilarious. Meryl Streep is also great in this film (when isn’t she?). Here she’s often a joy to watch, and gives us arguably the best and funniest scene in the entire film. Chris Cooper completes the trio and I’m so glad that he was recognised with an Oscar for this role; the guy is a great actor and is often vastly underrated. The rest of the cast is made of up some pretty great people, with minor roles going to Tilda Swinton and Cara Seymour – again two fantastic actresses.
So this is a film that I would very highly recommend to everyone. Compared to Being John Malkovich it’s the more accessible of the two, and in fact I probably prefer it. The film may sound confusing and weird, and it is, but it is so incredibly well handled that you really won’t feel distanced by it. Give it a try, and if you’ve already seen it and not got on with it that well, then give it another chance. It really grows on you.