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December 9, 2013

Adaptation (2002)
Director: Spike Jonze
Actors: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

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Synopsis: Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) battles against his demons and low self-esteem while commissioned to write a challenging screenplay about the relationship between a novelist and enigmatic orchid-thief. At the same time, his heathen brother, Donald (Nicolas Cage), achieves unlikely success with his own, more hackneyed genre screenplay….

Review: This riotous portrait of the principled writer adrift amid Hollywood’s industrial machine functions somewhere in between a sly celebration of the writer’s inherent sustenance and adaptability versus a more forlorn, futile view of their obsolescence against the tyranny of commercialised narrative.

Of course, deconstructionist movies like this toy with becoming self-defeating in that their anti-narrative machinations can preclude watchability (an error the Coen brothers’ spy spoof, Burn After Reading committed). Thankfully, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman are able to keep Adaptation progressively lucid and amusing through the layered revelations of their postmodern musings: not only is there the obvious twist at the end of the orchid thief subplot taking on the pulpy genre twists of Charlie’s brother’s schlocky scripting, but throughout the whole narrative, we’re forced to contend with just what the film’s empirical perspective actually is. And we have to figure out where the double-backs and stories-within-stories begin – if indeed they do at all, echoing the abyme of Jonze and Kaufman’s previous collaboration, Being John Malkovich, which Adaptation is a temporally literal spin-off from. (December 2013)

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