“You are what you love, not what loves you”.
So says Donald Kaufman the fictitious brother of fictitious Charlie Kaufman as written by the real Charlie Kaufman in his movie about trying to adapt Susan Orleans’ un-adaptable novel The Orchid Thief for the screen.
Understand? Good, because it doesn’t matter; this is a movie about change and how what we understand to probably be the truth is not really the truth anyway.
“Adaptation” is by the same team of director Spike Jones and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman that created “Being John Malcovich”, and the movie stars Nicolas Cage as the Kaufman brothers, Meryl Streep as Susan Orleans and Chris Cooper as John Laroche
The “plot” of the movie is this; Charlie Kaufman, fresh off of a string of recent screenwriting successes is hired to write a screenplay for the novel but is stricken with a horrible case of writer’s block.
Kaufman takes the impossible job to force himself to grow as a writer but soon realizes that growth is not that easy.
Kaufman, the least formulaic of all the successful screenwriters working today, is trying to create a Hollywood movie without formula but has bitten off more than he can chew with this project. Once he recognizes this and in desperation seeks help from whom he despises does the growth begin.
Kaufman never really attempts to bring “The Orchid Thief” to the screen. Instead he uses the novel about change passion, truth, and obsession to create a movie about change, passion, truth, and obsession.
Jones’ direction of this movie is exceptional, but it is the screenwriter that is the star and not just because the screenwriter is the lead character.
To say much more would give away too many wonderful surprises, suffice it to say the movie will probably be nothing like you expect it to be.
The acting throughout the movie is first rate from Cage all the way down to a young waitress in a diner.
The standout in the film however is Chris Cooper as John Laroche. His portrait of a seemingly simple and obsessive man is flawless.
In watching him one understands why Orleans was inspired to write a novel about him.
Meryl Streep, as always, is wonderful as the sad and longing Orleans, so much so the viewer might be tempted to think her performance is biographical. It is not, the name and the book are real, and the rest is fiction.
Cage has a tendency to exhibit a kind of manic goofiness in roles such as these but has been reigned in significantly by Spike Jones. No small feat since Cage has twice the opportunity to ham it up.
He is nearly perfect, however, in creating two distinct personalities in two characters physically resembling each other closely.
There are a lot of ideas packed into these two hours and all of them are worthwhile but the prevalent one is change.
We are a species that longs for change constantly in our lives but are often too scared and stuck in our ways to accomplish it.
We do not have a choice. Change is painful, violent and not always for the best but it is inevitable, and in the end the best we can do is adapt.