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Being John Malkovich (1999)

October 12, 2009

9/10 Head Trips

Even though he’s only done two movies, in honor of my being beyond psyched that Where the Wild Things Are is coming out this Friday, I’m declaring this week “Spike Jonze Week” and gettin’ this party started by going over his best movie so far.

Celebrate good times. Come on!

Being John Malkovich is about an out-of-work puppeteer in a fledgling marriage that takes a job as a file clerk at a company that does Godknowswhat. One day while on the job, our puppeteer discovers a secret door in the office, he crawls through the door down a dark tunnel, gets transported into the mind of actor John Malkovich for a couple minutes, then gets spat out onto the New Jersey Turnpike. So he dusts himself off, hitchhikes home, tries to capitalize on the unique discovery, and, naturally, things get complicated.

Sounds like screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s been smokin’ the doobies.

There’s a laundry list of reasons of why I’m crazy about this movie, but let’s start with the story, because the story is really what makes this thing so damn good. I can imagine some people might read that synopsis and dismiss it as beyond strange, but you know what, movies in general are lacking in a good dose of strange. But it’s also extremely original and very endearing. Might not sound like something that would draw you in and get you to care about its characters right off the bat, but it really does all while managing to hit a lot of surprisingly humane notes.

It’s also just a wild ride, primarily because of how it blends fact and fiction by actually incorporating John Malkovich, the real-life actor, into a plot that could never, ever happen in real life. Yes, it’s trippy and damn is it fun. 

Now let’s talk about the guy behind the story, Charlie Kaufman. For those who don’t know him, Charlie Kaufman is one of the best working screenwriters out there today and this is where he started to get some well-deserved attention. “Why is he one of the best working screenwriters out there today?” one might ask. Well, that’s because no one else in their right mind would think to write up a two-hour script called Being John Malkovich, let alone write a great script called Being John Malkovich. Kaufman’s imagination is something to behold and appreciate for all its weirdness, his sense of humor is equally strange and outright hilarious, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s got Spike Jonze to help him bring it all to life. He’s just a great writer on all fronts with a resume’ that anyone in Hollywood would kill for.

Now for Spike Jonze, the man of the hour. I think there’s something to be said for film directors who got their start making AWESOME MUSIC VIDEOS before making the leap to awesome movies, because Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek, and Jonathan Glazer (to name a few) all seem to have their shit quite figured out as well. I don’t know what it is about Spike Jonze though, he doesn’t really have a visual style that sets him apart, but the guy is just good at telling good stories and, like Kaufman, is great at letting his imagination go wild. It’s great when directors remind you that making movies and watching movies should be fun; that’s what Jonze does best and that’s what he does here.

The acting here is also really good. John Cusack is very, very believable as the insecure puppeteer, and so is a totally unrecognizable Cameron Diaz as his wife. But let’s not kid ourselves, the star of the show is my man John Malkovich. The best parts in the movie all revolve around stepping into Malkovich’s shoes, watching him react to the bizarro circumstances he’s placed in, and it doesn’t hurt that he is one of the more interesting individuals in the world that you could possibly imagine making a movie about. This is the guy who played the batshit crazy psychos from In The Line of Fire and Con Air, the guy whose face you recognize but can’t quite remember what movies he’s been in, and…for God’s sake, it’s Malkovich! He plays the role great, mainly because he’s just playing himself, and since he’s awesome to begin with, it works out beautifully.

Fun fact: I actually ran into him in an airport in Zurich, Switzerland. Pretty cool, huh?

Anyway, go watch Being John Malkovich. It’s hard to describe how wonderful this movie is without seeing it yourself. There are so many unique and fresh little quirks and gags that are riddled throughout this thing that you really can’t do it justice through text or even try to cover it all without experiencing it for yourself. There’s just nothing else like Malkovich, it’s an absolute riot, and it’s a perfect introduction to Jonze, Kaufman, and Malkovich himself. Might be one of the best movies of the past ten years.

Why not brighten up your day and go watch the “Praise You” video again. One of my favorite music videos of all time and if this doesn’t get you pumped for Spike Jonze week then I don’t know what will.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 10:29 am

    “I loved you in that jewel thief movie”
    “Ummm…I’ve never been in a jewel thief movie.”

    Malkovich kills in this movie, but I guess it’s hard to get nominated for an Oscar when you’re playing yourself. I don’t know why, but Charlie Sheen’s unexpected little cameo always kills me too…maybe it’s for the odd advice he doles out to John.

    As for your Spike Jonze week, I say you fill it out by including a post about the amazing music video work you mentioned, and perhaps throw in his acting chops in THREE KINGS for good measure!

    • October 12, 2009 12:02 pm

      Holy crap! I almost forgot about Three Kings! He was awesome in that. Good call.

      I totally should have used that jewel thief line when I ran into him. Hopefully that opportunity will arise once more.

  2. Branden permalink
    October 12, 2009 3:37 pm

    Yay! This movie is awesome. I can’t wait to see his latest flick.

    This movie was so out there. I loved it. Some people love “Adaptation” more than this movie. They are insane in the membrane.

    • October 12, 2009 4:20 pm

      Hahaha. I’ll review Adaption soon, but even though that’s an awesome movie, I agree, it’s not Malkovich.

  3. mediamugshot permalink
    October 12, 2009 10:53 pm

    This movie nearly blew my mind the first time I saw it … “What happens when a man goes through his own portal?”

    A definite question to ponder.

    • October 13, 2009 7:27 am

      That question might be the best scene of the movie. “MALKOVICH!


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