Adaptation – Review (Spoiler Free)

Adaptation Poster - Wikipedia

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.

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20 comments

  1. theipc · · Reply

    Great movie!

    1. Glad that you agree, do you prefer it or Malkovich?

  2. theipc · · Reply

    Great write up!

    1. Cheers man!

  3. I absolutely love this one too. I’ve been meaning to revisit it actually. Such a clever script, which could have been so easily pretentious. I haven’t seen it for a few years, but I remember being struck by enjoyable such an intelligent film could be.

    1. Yeah you’re right it could so easily have come across as pretentious and yet I never once felt that when watching it. It just somehow avoids feeling that way, it’s pretty impressive!

  4. Great movie. Makes me wish Nic Cage would pick more roles like this these days. I like both Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich more, but this is a fantastic film. Nice review.

    1. Thanks 🙂
      Yeah I would love to see Cage take on more roles in the same vein as this one.
      I’m undecided at the moment as to whether I prefer this or Eternal Sunshine, I’ll have to see it again. Have you seen Synecdoche? I still haven’t, although I gather that it is not liked as much as the others that we’ve mentioned.

      1. I think that’s the only Kaufman film I haven’t seen. I know some people really love it and I know others who hate it. I think I’ll try to see that one soon.

        1. Ah, well it sounds interesting regardless of which camp you fall in. Kaufman moving into the Director’s chair is a troublesome move – I don’t how much he needs these great directors to hep the material stay accessible. I guess we will see. 🙂

  5. Awesome review, man. I can’t really say why I haven’t seen this but I hope to do so soon.

    1. Cheers! I hope you enjoy it 🙂 Have you seen Kaufman’s other films ?

      1. Just Eternal Sunshine, I think.

        1. Ah, well Being John Malkovich is certainly worth a watch as well. Most people would say that’s Kaufman’s best.

  6. Because it is a film about itself, it is therefore about much more. It is about art imitating life, life imitating art and the roles of one within the other. It is about the role art plays in life. It’s also about the sophomore slump and the act of approaching it. He doesn’t fail in writing “The Orchid Theif” he utterly succeeds, beyond the wildest imaginations – he actually follows the writer of the book, alas getting inside her head, which was the whole point in the first place.

    I wrote the above after only reading the first paragraph. Your second paragraph might incline me to amend my first paragraph, but in the spirit of the film, I’ll let the process evolve.

    I suggest watching ‘Being John Malkovich’ again, especially if you haven’t seen it in awhile. I disagree that it’s not accessbile; who hasn’t thought about being someone else. I re-watched ‘Being John Malkovich’ this past year and enjoyed it more than ever. But, both movies are great, as is Charlie Kaufman.

    1. I wouldn’t say that Being John Malkovich is inaccessible, purely that Adaptation is just a little easier to access. Both films do a marvelous job of playing out some unusual ideas whilst keeping the audience tied into the story, despite its oddness.

      Haha, well I’ve never had a comment that evolves as yours does before! Also, In general I agree with the points in your first paragraph.

      Have you seen Synecdoche? I’m asking around to get a feel for people’s opinions on that one. I hope to get around to seeing it soon myself.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Yes, I enjoyed Synecdoche – it’s better on a second viewing, like many Kaufman films. Once upon a time, I may have agreed that Adaptation is more accessible than Being John Malkovich. But, now, I think Being John Malkovich is more accessible.

    1. Yeah my opinions of Kaufman films has always improved after a re-watch.

      What made you change your mind?

  8. Probably time. How perspective changes depending upon what time in your life you watch it. When in your life you watch it affects everything – relatability, accesability, enjoyability.

    1. Fair enough. Certainly external elements do play a large factor like you say.

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