Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Expanding Your Cinema Horizons- Adaptation

Note: Rififi was scheduled for today, but I figured people wouldn't read about two French films in a row, so I switched it with Adaptation

Screenwriters often go under the radar in Hollywood. Seriously, most any movie fan came name a decent amount of actors and directors, but I doubt that only real cinephiles could name more than one or two screenwriters (unless or course they also direct or star in films). One of the few screenwriters that actually has star power is Charlie Kaufman, who was had major success despite the fact that his films are often surrealistic and deal with our metaphysical nature. In his 2002 film Adaptation, directed by Spike Jones, Kaufman explores his own struggle to adapt Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief into a coherent screenplay. What follows is a very interesting look into the screenwriting process and a closer view of one of Hollywood's most interesting minds.

The film essentially follows two stories, Charlie's struggles to adapt The Orchid Thief and Susan Orlean's experiences interviewing John Larouche (the subject of the book) about his role in helping the Seminole Indian tribe steal orchids from national parks. The majority of the plot details both of the journeys they take to take their subject matter and turn it into something else. However, the film is anything but boring and it uses many odd twists to show changes in narration and mood. The film is also notable because Kaufman created a fake brother Donald who gets a real life screenwriting credit. In the film, Donald is Charlie's more fun-loving sibling who begins writing very generic crime thriller screenplays. His success selling his screenplay The 3 and his involvement with Charlie's struggles turn the movie into much more than a look at screenwriting.

This film is about a lot more than its complicated plot. It is extremely well acted and includes some amazing performances from Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and believe it or not Nicolas Cage. Cage portrays both Charlie and Donald Kaufman and is just perfect in both roles. He is excellent at portraying the subtle neurosis of Charlie especially. In the film, Charlie Kaufman is an absolute head-case and weak willed person and Cage's performance (opposite of his usual movies) is full of nuance and pained emotion. Charlie is one step short of a nervous breakdown and Cage masters his awkward tics and speech patterns, especially in this scene where Charlie attends a screenwriting seminar done by the famous Robert McKee, played well by Brian Cox.

Cooper is also perfect in the role of John Laroche, a very odd man fascinated by orchids and their relationship with the rest of nature. His scenes with Steep are incredibly fascinating and I was shocked at how interesting he makes orchids seem.

Adaptation is a film that is about much more than its plot. It's about writing, specifically adaptation, and how we take something and make it our own (even if that means writing us into our own screenplay), but its also about people and their relationships with one and another. It is certainly not a popcorn movie, but if you love great acting and writing this is a film not to be missed. Adaptation is vintage Kaufman, and also in my opinion the best film ever about the art of crafting something for the screen. Put it number one on your Netflix queue, you won't be disappointed.

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