Adaptation (review)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.


(Best of 2002)

I don’t want to be here. Sitting at the computer, staring at a blank screen. The spinning of the hard disk is driving me insane. I should do the dishes. I should be looking for a job. I should quit this stupid site — it’s never gonna get me anywhere. No one would miss it anyway.

Look out the window. It’s snowing. Imagine that: snowing in NYC in autumn. I could go out and play in it. I could walk to the post office and pick up my mail.

No. Come on. Stop it. Think about Adaptation

I should probably watch Being John Malkovich again before I try to write this. I’ve got the DVD here somewhere. It’s vitally important that I watch BJM again right now. I could just put it on for a while. I could write while I’m watching it. I can do that.

Jesus. No. Idiot.

How do you write a review about a movie that’s about the writing of the movie itself? By writing a review that’s about the writing of the review? Shit. That’s stupid. It’s pretentious — no, it’s derivative. I’m such a hack. I hate this. I hate myself. I’m hopeless.

Well, okay, maybe I’m not. Cuz Charlie Kaufman is clearly a fucking genius and he has the same devouring insecurities about himself that I do, though probably only one of us can get away with baring our pathetic souls like this. He was hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book The Orchid Thief for film, and he labored over it and agonized over it and he just couldn’t do it. So instead he wrote a script about the horrible process of turning this unfilmable book into a film, and about how Hollywood just completely twists everything into shit, shit that’s praised and rewarded and makes the people who make the shit a shitload of money.

Except they produced this script, didn’t they? So at least Hollywood can take a joke about itself. But I bet Kaufman probably still doesn’t get invited to the best parties.

This chair is so damned uncomfortable. I should find another chair. I hate this chair.

Man, writing is like squeezing blood from a stone for Kaufman, too, a constant struggle between writing what you want to write and writing what’s gonna sell. Screenwriters in particular — and I’m suffering from this at the moment, too, trying to sell a couple scripts that are good but not commercial, or maybe they’re not commercial because they suck. I’m such a moron to even think of comparing myself to Kaufman, but how do you know the difference between clichés that are just trite and clichés that turn the clichés on their ears?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just sweat it out until someone starts giving you money for your clichés, or until they don’t. And then you know.

Kaufman lets it all out here, painful and raw, the battle creative people who’d actually like to make a living off their creative efforts fight between originality and commercialism. Split personalities are cliché in screenplays, of course, as Kaufman tells us… Actually, Charlie Kaufman tells his twin brother, Donald (both played by Nicolas Cage: The Family Man, Gone in 60 Seconds, in the performance of his life), who doesn’t really exist offscreen. And that’s sublimely hilarious — and is some of that brilliant turning-clichés-on-their-ears stuff that, who am I kidding, I’ll never, ever be able to do — because here the cliché is fresh and funny and perfectly representative of the offscreen Kaufman’s internal confusion. Donald is Charlie’s flip side: confident, brash, a nonwriter who tosses off a screenplay for a horrible, absurd, trite (and successful) thriller without — and this really is the key — without thinking about it. All while Charlie sits and stares at a blank page and self-obsesses himself into writer’s block.

Recursive, Escheresque, and loopy, literally, Adaptation keeps snaking back on itself, eating its own tail, as we watch Charlie start to put down on paper the very words and actions we’re witnessing onscreen: the meetings with studio execs and agents, who completely misunderstand him; the exasperating and infuriating conversations with Donald; his humiliating visits to the set of Being John Malkovich, where John Cusack and Catherine Keener ignore him; even his own imagined, abortive scenes from The Orchid Thief, starring Susan Orlean and her subject, flower obsessive John Laroche as themselves (actually, they’re Meryl Streep [One True Thing, Out of Africa] and Chris Cooper [The Bourne Identity, The Patriot] who are amazing, separately and together). It’s Being Charlie Kaufman, and it gets even more meta when Offscreen Kaufman decides to give Hollywood what it wants, and turns his third act over to sex, drugs, guns, and car chases. Whether you find this witty and knowing and actually touching or tedious and masturbatory and ridiculous will probably depend entirely on whether or not you can see yourself in Kaufman’s mass of anxieties, whether you feel Kaufman is dissecting the creative process itself… or not.

I think I’ve already made it clear on which side of the fence I fall.

It gives me great encouragement, as tormenting as I’m sure it is for him, to think that Charlie Kaufman, whose boots I am not worthy to lick, worries about his capabilities as a writer, no matter how much adulation gets heaped on him and despite the fact that this is only one of three — three — produced scripts of his this year (the others are last spring’s Human Nature and the forthcoming Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). Maybe I, too, am not as hopeless as I think I am.

Then again, most of us who are self-aware enough to know we’re pathetic probably are.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments