By some distance the best film about writer’s block, fraternal rivalry and orchids ever made, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to the brilliant Being John Malkovich is another stunningly imaginative tour de force, the kind of film that even after serial viewings continues to baffle, bewilder, tease, provoke and entertain on a huge scale.
Inspired by Kaufman’s own faltering attempts at writing a screenplay based on a biography by New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean of rough-hewn naturalist John Laroche (much as Barton Fink was inspired by the Coen brothers’ struggles with a succession of aborted scripts), Adaptation casts Nicolas Cage as both Charlie and his (invented) twin brother, the lumpish Donald, whose own screenplay for a trashy action flick is embraced by the despairing Charlie’s agent as a potential hit.
The extent to which Kaufman and director Jonze then blur the distinctions between fact and fiction, the real and the imagined, is cheerfully outrageous, often astonishing, as crucial elements of Donald’s crass screenplay begin to seep inexorably into the film we are watching and defining its outrageous third act, in which all manner of mayhem is let loose.
Cage is unbeatably good as the Kaufman brothers, his performance(s) recalling his pre-blockbuster days in films like Raising Arizona, Meryl Streep is a revelation as Orlean and the Oscar-winning Chris Cooper ferocious as Laroche. Absolute genius.