Movie Reviews
12:50 pm
Mon January 13, 2003

Adaptation

See this film to experience passionate cinema at its best.

If you've ever written for publication or tried, Spike Jonze's "Adaptation" is the best film I've seen since "Barton Fink" to depict writer's block. The joy of the creation is a Darwinian journey from the writer's primal self through the swamp of emotions and yearnings to the expulsion of his worse self and the birth of his voice. Barton Fink went through a literal hell to get it as well.

Writer Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich"), played Oscarly by Nicholas Cage, depicts himself as the writer of his own film, "Adaptation," tortured through an initial assignment to write about an eccentric orchid lover, John Laroche, played by Chris Cooper also in Oscar-worthy style, and his biographer, Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, for once not the match of her colleagues. Cage fulfills the promise of his "Leaving Las Vegas" winning role by playing both Charlie and his alter-ego brother, Donald. As brothers sometime tend to be, both are half of a whole person, Charlie nerdy and introverted, Donald hip but shallow and extroverted. Cooper plays the front-toothless Laroche with depth of feeling and intellect wrapped in a Florida Riviera red-neck mien.

The real attention goes, however, to the process of writing. As Charlie looks at his typewriter for inspiration, his voiceover negotiates for coffee and a muffin, but only after he writes his introduction. This authenticity, understood by anyone trying to kick start the process (I needed hot chocolate and the right chair to begin this review), is palpable.

The quest for the elusive orchid in the swamp is a natural metaphor for the beauty that may be found among the muck and danger of this writing grail quest. Appropriately, Charlie must also strike out boldly to win the heart of a woman whom he has hesitated to approach until he has gone through his swamp of initiation. Indeed, their kiss is the most romantic part of an otherwise uncompromisingly real, albeit artful, depiction of the lonely creative act.

In "The Hours," my other favorite film of the year, Virginia Woolf's writing and life propel some to the brink of suicide; in "Adaptation," Kaufman delivers everyone from the "slough of despond" to create a brilliant film we are at the same time experiencing.

The need to be passionate about something is a sub theme: See this film to experience passionate cinema at its best.