Adaptation is a film about a screenwriter writing about himself writing the film adaptation to a book, while also writing about the writer who originally wrote the book, and the film he’s writing about actually turns out to be the film we’re watching. With me so far?
Charlie Kaufman, the writer of Being John Malkovich, is tasked to escape his usual mind-bending scripts and write an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief. This is the actual script he turned into the producers, and in the film Nicolas Cage stars as Kaufman (and his twin brother Donald) while Meryl Streep plays the writer of The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean and Chris Cooper plays the subject of the book, John Laroche.
While this film is entertaining in its own right it’s will really appeal to people with aspirations of being a screenwriter. Through the film Charlie Kaufman descends in a panic. He’s insecure and neurotic and he just can’t find a way to make flowers interesting. He’s also struggling with issues in his personal life, and these are only exacerbated by the fact that his twin brother has tried his hand at screenwriting and is actually finding it easy. We also see how Susan Orlean found out about John Laroche and what first inspired her to write a book about him. The different threads are all balanced with precision and even though there’s a lot going on the script is so well-written that you don’t feel lost at any point.
It’s very much a meta-film, and the ending may infuriate some people but it does make sense. The turning point is when Kaufman gives up and visits a seminar given by the lecturer who gave Donald the impetus to begin writing his script, and Charlie ends up going against everything he believes in. But it’s really a masterclass in writing because after that turning point the film takes on a completely different tone and it’s almost as if it had been written by a completely different writer, and if it had been any other film it would be a criticism, but in this one it’s done on purpose and at times you’re not sure whether you’re watching a depiction of real events or if it’s fictional, but it’s a hell of ride.
There are some great lessons in here for writers and if you pay attention you’ll be able to figure out what Charlie Kaufman is trying to say. Other than that it’s an entertaining, quirky script with mostly good performances, and a reminder of just how good Nicolas Cage can be.