Skip to content

Adaptation. (2002)

October 15, 2009

9/10 Writer’s Blocks

In keeping with the Spike Jonze theme this week, today I’ll be going over his sophomore directing effort. Not as good as Malkovich, but it’s arguably the best movie about writing…ever.

Adaptation. is about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who’s been hired to adapt a screenplay out of the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean (which is pretty much just a book about orchids) in the wake of his successful debut screenplay, Being John Malkovich. As a result of being asked to accomplish this near-impossible task, he racks his brain to the point of insanity trying to figure out how to write an un-filmable script as it evolves/devolves into a story about his own convoluted life.

It’s actually really freakin’ hard to put this movie’s plot into a nutshell, but that’s about as good as it’s gonna get, folks.

The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t get it. I was quite confused by it all and really wasn’t sure what in the hell was going on during the last half-hour. Then I gave it another shot last year and absolutely loved it. It helps a lot if you understand the writing process and what a total bitch it is trying to write a good screenplay, but even if you’ve never so much as written a haiku in grade school, it’s hard not to appreciate this script for how brilliant and out there it is.

This leads me to the enigma that is Charlie Kaufman’s role in all this. I’m gonna do my best to explain this, but it might get trippy. This script of his isn’t so much about his struggle to make orchids appealing to a mass audience, instead it’s more about the writing process itself. For the first two Acts of the movie, it all holds together in a believable manner as it deals with him trying think of every angle he can attack this sucker without allowing himself to become a hack writer like his twin brother, Donald (who doesn’t actually exist in real life but is written in to the script as Charlie’s alter-ego of sorts), then in the last Act everything does a 180 of sorts and becomes the movie that people expect to see, the movie that Charlie has been trying to painfully avoid making, but it all works out.

Like I said, hard to describe, but that’s how it goes when you’re describing things that haven’t been done before. It’s weird, and you might not get it now, but it’s totally worth seeing this movie just to get everything all cleared up. But that’s what you expect from Charlie Kaufman and that’s why we love him.

Charlie and Donald are both played here by Nicolas Cage. Now, I’m not Nic’s biggest fan, but since it must have been really freakin’ hard to pull off acting as two very different characters at the same time and manage to do it really well without overacting or yelling for no apparent reason, I tip my fedora to him. Nic, you need to start taking more roles like this, man. We like you when you’re calm.

The other two great actors here are Meryl Streep (shocker) and Chris Cooper. Meryl Streep plays Susan Orlean, the author of “The Orchid Thief” (real author, real book) who falls for Chris Cooper, an orchid hunter with one interesting outlook on life and a terribly unfortunate case of gingivitis. What is there to say about Meryl Streep that hasn’t already been said? Even if all her lines involved her belching and farting at the end of every sentence, I’m pretty sure she’d still kick ass and would garner another Oscar nod. Anyway, she’s great here as usual, has a great character to work with, and nails this freakin’ hilarious scene where she gets high for the first time and all she can do is stare at her toes with a shit-eating grin on her face and hum into a telephone for lengths at a time. Good stuff.

But I’m glad Chris Cooper actually got the Oscar for this one. He’s a great actor and he is so freakin’ good here. There are a lot of great characters in this movie, but Cooper really makes this hillbilly orchid thief stand out amongst the pack. He quickly becomes as completely interesting to the audience in the way that Susan Orlean finds him, you forget how ridiculous he looks and you grow to admire him for the passionate individual he prides himself on being. He also has some of the best lines in the movie and gives one absolutely fantastic speech about how he used to be obsessed with fish in the same way he’s now obsessed with orchids. Why’d he give up fish? “Fuck fish!” That’s why.


Point is, Chris Cooper’s the man. Makes me happy to see him get his due.

Adaptation. is a movie you need to pay attention to and one that rewards you entirely for your efforts. It’s somewhat confusing, it’s beyond crazy, but Spike Jonze does a great job of bringing together all its fantastic strengths that you can’t help but enjoy it as something you’ve never really seen before. Very funny, very intelligent, and very, very original. That’s one awesome trifecta right there.

There’s also a great cameo by Brian Cox as Dr. Bob McKee – the almighty guru of screenwriting. Brian Cox is sweet. He needs to get his due, too.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Branden permalink
    October 15, 2009 3:09 pm

    It sounds like you are preparing for the geeking out for “Where the Wild Things Are.”

    Spike Jonze is a genius filmmaker.

  2. Nick H permalink
    October 15, 2009 4:10 pm

    Hey, with Halloween coming up and everything, I think it’s time for a review of “The Exorcist”–saw the movie for the first time yesterday, my jaw almost hit the floor multiple times. An automatic 10/10. And Fr. O’Malley is in it. I take it back- I give it an 11/10.

    • October 15, 2009 4:12 pm

      Wow, that’s pretty high for The Exorcist. I’ll see what I can do, man. Funny movie.

  3. Nick H permalink
    October 15, 2009 7:19 pm

    Yeah, a 12-year-old demon girl reciting some of the most famously vulgar lines in the history of cinema is absolutely hilarious…

  4. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    October 16, 2009 1:44 pm

    Just so you know: The fact that you know who Chris Cooper is AND you think he’s the man makes you awesome. Simple as that! If you haven’t seen “Breach,” you must, and soon — it’s one of the very precious few films where Cooper gets a starring role, and he’s so good it makes you wonder what the hell is wrong will all the movies that came after that he DID NOT star in.

  5. Audrey permalink
    October 16, 2009 4:38 pm

    Love your site, love you- proud of you, Aid.

    • October 16, 2009 4:47 pm

      Best comment yet from my biggest fan. Thanks, Aud. Love you, too.

  6. May 26, 2010 6:21 pm

    Felt the same way you did about this. Check out my review here: Thanks brah nice review!


  1. 15 Favorite Directors « Cut The Crap Movie Reviews

Drop that knowledge!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: