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Adaptation (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two


TRYING to summarise the plot of the wickedly funny new film from the Being John Malkovich team is enough to trigger a dose of severe writers’ block - especially since it is a plight suffered by the main character himself.

But Adaptation is that type of film; a wildly inventive and ridiculously surreal movie about the film industry which functions on so many levels that it is sometimes difficult to keep up.

Nicolas Cage stars as mixed-up screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, a sexually frustrated loner who is given the task of adapting Susan Orlean’s non-fiction novel, The Orchid Thief, for the big screen.

As he attempts to honour the book’s true story - that of Florida-based plant dealer, John Laroche (Chris Cooper) and his relationship with both Meryl Streep’s inquisitive novelist [Orlean] and the rare orchids he continually searches for - Kaufman becomes beset by loathing and self-doubt, triggering a mental breakdown which prompts him to place himself in the subsequent screenplay.

Added to his anxiety is the presence of his fictional twin brother (also played by Cage), a more successful version of Charlie, who is attempting to write his own, more mainstream screenplay, and who constantly asks his brother for help.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, although to reveal too much more would be giving too much away. Suffice to say, that the ensuing couple of hours is a demented mind-trip through one guy’s personal torment which manages to inspire, raise questions about life in general and knock Hollywood, all at the same time.

The final third of the film, in particular, is a deliberately over-the-top piss-take out of blockbuster convention, which only serves to heighten the enjoyment of what has come before.

Needless to say, Cage delivers his best two performances in ages, shuffling nervous energy like never before and displaying a nice line in self-depreciating humour - his voice-overs, in particular, are a constant treat, while many of the situations he finds himself in drift into the farcical and become hilarious as a result.

Undoubtedly, there are those who will probably dismiss Adaptation as a load of self-indulgent tosh, or as a smug and overly-clever attempt to poke fun at just about everything. And they are entitled to their opinion.

Yet it remains a refreshingly incisive comedy, the type of which comes along all too rarely. The real-life Kaufman (yes, you read that right) is now one of the most sought-after screenwriters in the industry (witness Being John Malkovich and the upcoming Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and it is easy to see why; he seldom resorts to the obvious unless it is to poke fun at it.

But Spike Jonze, the director, is also be applauded for transforming such a complex narrative into something so breezy, while his ability to coax terrific performances from any cast is now without question - aside from Cage, both Streep and Cooper have also been Oscar-nominated.

This is a blast from start to finish and one well worth seeing twice to catch what you may have missed the first time.

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