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adaptation

ADAPTATION (2002)

Lonely screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is in a bit of a pinch. He needs to adapt the book "The Orchid Thief" formerly written by Susan Orlean. What's more, he needs to not only recount the life of Orlean, and her reason behind her interesting tale, but he needs to do it with a panache that distinguishes his film from that of the rest of the Hollywood crap being mass produced. But with Charlie on the brink of insanity caused by a severe writer's block and an annoying live-in twin brother, it seems Charlie has his work cut out for him. Deciding to follow Susan to learn of her connection to the book "The Orchid Thief", will Charlie be able to write the screenplay of a lifetime before he loses his grip on reality?

The excellent cast includes: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper.

Written By: Susan Orlean (Book The Orchid Thief) Charlie & Donald Kaufman (Screenplay).

Directed By: Spike Jonze.


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Genre: Drama/Comedy

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Rated R for language, sexuality, some drug use and violent images.

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ADAPTATION emerges as one of Hollywood's small-time, big-time paradoxes that hits the silver screen with all the fan-fare and flair of a typical blockbuster, while simultaneously managing to pull off the 'independent-film' vibe insofar as the entire plot, content, and production of the film goes. With as much art as there is capital backing the film, ADAPTATION tells the tale of renowned screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) and his attempts to deal with a sudden mid-life crisis encroaching on both his personal and professional life.

Coming off a recent high from the successful production of "Being John Malkovich", Kaufman is approached with the request to turn author Susan (Meryl Streep) Orlean's book "The Orchid Thief" into the next big screenplay for Hollywood. "The Orchid Thief" is of course about a plant-dealer turned thief that goes by the name John Laroche (Chris Cooper). With a potentially bland story, Kaufman decides he wants to try something new, cutting edge, something that won't blend in with the masses of blase Hollywood films of the past. Nevertheless Kaufman agrees to adapt the non-fiction story and recount it in Kaufman-fashion; i.e. sans the sex, drugs, car chases, and interminably successful protagonists.

But it seems Charlie's attempts for the adaptation have him questioning his abilities as a writer despite his former successes. The fact that Charlie is a middle-aged, balding, overweight, shy, socially inept, insecure, quirky guy who’s obsessed with masturbating has nothing to do with his perspective at all… right. Meanwhile Kaufman's twin brother, Donald, the suave, attractive, social butterfly of the two, has taken a liking to Charlie's profession and decides to write a screenplay of his own, a screenplay centering on everything Charlie abhors about Hollywood, which is of course received with much success. Nevertheless he maintains his adoration for his twin brother Charlie despite their stark differences, and his sudden fame.

Meanwhile Charlie is undertaking following Susan Orlean in an attempt to dig into her personal life and unveil the truth behind her affiliation with her non-fiction publication of "The Orchid Thief"; which turns out to be more than just an objective critique of the Mr. Laroche, but a rather personal relation with the nefarious character. As Charlie digs deeper and deeper into the ways and wants of Orlean, the movie flashes back 3 years, to portray the setting, reasoning, and meaning, behind the tale of "The Orchid Thief" and its protagonist.

But as Charlie finds himself struggling with turning his research into prolific words, he finds himself waning on the delicate thread of sanity, which means sudden visits from his twin brother in the imaginary self-manifested state. That's right. Charlie's twin brother Donald is only present half the time, in so far as Charlie manifests his presence the other half of the time. Of course Charlie's manifested Donald isn't anything akin to real Donald: loving, caring, supportive Donald. Nevertheless Charlie grows increasingly angry by this 'imaginary Donald' and his annoying ways. With his focus so attuned to his brother and his failing personal life, will Charlie ever be able to write the prolific screenplay? Is he apt to overcome his current unstable status, and learn to love and accept himself and others? And what about Susan and her life? What exactly does she want, and what it she willing to do to get it?

Though hard to follow at times, Spike Jonez delivers with a visually stimulating and mentally intriguing film that is as witty as it is unconventional. With an open ending that lets the audience assume an outcome to their liking, the selective choice to end the film as such only ads to the unconventionality and intrigue of the piece. Much like the story line itself, Jonez was searching for an unusual film with a different medium, and tone than that of its blockbuster predecessors and he found it in ADAPTATION. Moreover, though you might have to watch it more than once to fully understand the plot, it’s likely you’ll want to watch it again and again, as you discover something you previously missed with every new viewing.

Moreover the cast is as solid as their performances. With big names like Streep and Cage interacting with Jonze, what resulted was a magnetizing set of performances from one character to the next. Better still, Cage pulled off his ying-yang twins with such perfection its hard to believe one possessed the ability to intertwine themselves with such a set of opposites and still maintain the distinction on film, which he does with precision.

With an appropriate mix of action, drama, and suspense, ADAPTATION proves you can have an uncanny plot hold its own against the monotony of Hollywood actions flicks so long as the production is done with care and consideration. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you ADAPTATION by Spike Jonez, the ingénue film at its finest hour.

Main Characters:

Charlie Kaufman, played by Nicolas Cage, is a famous screenwriter on the brink of insanity, and in desperate need to cure his writer's block so he can write the adaptation of Susan Orlean’s book "The Orchid Thief". What's more he's a shy, insecure, socially inept, overweight mess of a man.

Donald Kaufman, also played by Nicolas Cage, is the twin brother of Charlie Kaufman who aspires to be just like his famous counterpart. After writing his first screenplay, he finds instant success. Of course Donald is the cooler and more suave of the two.

Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, is the alluring aged writer and lonely wife whose tragic past and present captivate audiences as she openly divulges the hopelessness, sadness, lust, and desperation that is her life.

John Laroche, played by Chris Cooper, the lonely yet arrogant plant-dealer turned thief that is the focal point for the life and career of Susan Orlean.

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