In Adaptation, Nicolas Cage stars as Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter who accepts the job of adapting the book The Orchid Thief—written by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). Known for his unique style/voice, Kaufman proudly accepts the job to turn the book into an insightful, character-focused movie, instead of a derivative, plot-driven Hollywood film. Despite his earnest attempts to adapt the book, Kaufman struggles writing the screenplay, because of the book’s minimal characterization.
As he reads The Orchid Thief, movie viewers can see the book unfolding from Susan Orlean’s (author) perspective. She is a journalist doing a story on the plant loving, eccentric John Laroche (Chris Cooper). She recounts Laroche’s life and his adventures into obtaining rare plants from the state preserve and then harboring them in his care. Orlean’s original article on Laroche is further expanded into The Orchid Thief.
Meanwhile, while Charlie is reading the book as well as struggling with writer’s block, Charlie’s twin brother, Donald (also played by Nicolas Cage) is spec writing a Hollywood thriller. Donald, who is the opposite of Charlie in terms of personality, has fun writing his script. Donald not only shows enthusiasm for his writing, but also around people and at parties. Charlie, who is shy and self-loathing, has a hard time expressing himself to people, especially to his love interest Amelia (Cara Seymour). With Donald annoying him with questions about his Hollywood script, on top of his depressing mood, Charlie must find a way to adapt the complicated book, without ruining its essence.
Adaptation is written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. The movie is based on Kaufman’s actual struggles in adapting The Orchid Thief to the big screen. Like the character in the film, Kaufman struggled with writer’s block. To finish the script and put a nice twist on it, he added himself, a fictional twin brother, and author Susan Orlean in the movie to add meta elements to the film. As a result, Adaptation is a thought-provoking film with a mix of subtext elements and social commentary.
As indicated, Charlie Kaufman infuses the Adaptation script with his real-life experiences of adapting the book. By choosing to veer off into a different direction, instead of faithfully adapting the book, Kaufman creates something truly rewarding to see. Watching the characters onscreen feels like watching a pseudo-documentary, with talented actors playing the roles of real-life Kaufman and Orlean. However, by Kaufman choosing to go in this direction, the film’s narrative may confuse casual viewers on what is happening. For those who are not aware of the subtextual and production details of the film may not fully enjoy Adaptation. Nevertheless, the film is still a thought-provoking film that raises questions on the quality of Hollywood movies.
Real-life Kaufman juxtaposes Hollywood and Independent (Indie) Cinema by way of Charlie and Donald. In the film, not only are Charlie and Donald opposites of each other, they also represent the different forms of cinema. Charlie desires to make an indie, character-driven movie about how characters (and flowers) exist in our world, whereas Donald wants to make plot-driven Hollywood movies. What Kaufman does so well is that he illustrates the strengths and flaws of both Hollywood and Indie Cinema, giving viewers an inside look into the world of screenwriting and the obstacles associated with it. To that end, Kaufman successfully creates an interesting dynamic between the two forms.
Not only is the writing good, but the acting is superb as well. All actors in the film deliver top-notch work. Nicolas Cage delivers a strong performance as Charlie and Donald, respectively. The actor showcases his great talent by capturing Charlie’s self-loathing, shy nature, while, at the same time, capturing Donald’s exuberant personality. To that end, Cage successfully distinguishes the two brothers, making it easy for viewers to perceive which is which onscreen.
Meryl Streep uses her excellent acting talent to portray Orlean. Streep captures Orlean’s inquisitive, sad, and caring sides, all through top-notch character acting. Also, Streep evokes a yearning nature in the character, making it clear to viewers that Orlean is longing for something truly great in her life.
While both Cage and Streep are great in the film, Chris Cooper, as John Laroche, is the standout in the film. As Laroche, Cooper conveys his eccentric, rude, and damaged sides. With Cooper in the role, he successfully embodies Laroche, making the character complex and, at the same time, likable.
With a good balance of superb acting, intriguing social commentary, and meta elements, Adaptation is a well-made comedy-drama from the creative mind of Charlie Kaufman.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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