***.8 GM
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, Maggie Gyllenhaal


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You gotta enjoy a movie that pulls a brilliant joke on its audience, many of whom won't even get it, making most of those who DO get it feel all happy and hoity-toity about how goddamned brilliant they must be to get the joke.

It's this kind of double-sided contempt for everyone else and oneself that forms the core of this film, and it's something a lot of creative types seem to experience, from my observations, myself included.

A standard internal dialogue: "Man, this movie sucks hardcore donkey turds. I hate this and everybody involved in it. I'm in no position to criticize, though, aside from the fact that I paid to watch it. I should really write a screenplay if this is the kind of crap that gets made. But I've tried to write some, and I'm always too lazy to get them finished, or when I do finish, they look all trite and faux-snappy and not nearly as good as they should be. God, I suck hardcore donkey turds. Look at that ugly hunk of shit in the mirror - what a lame-ass honky. I look like every lame-ass honky. That's what everybody else in the world thinks when they look at me - what a lame-ass honky. True, everybody else in the world is a dumbass simp that eats up crap like this fuckass movie I'm watching right now, but that doesn't mean I'm not a lame-ass honky - I mean, look at me, I paid to watch this hunk of ass. They suck, I suck, they still suck, but I suck for being such an elitist asshole that thinks they all suck, but look at 'em and how much they suck!"

And so on.

"Adaptation" captures that self-and-all-else-loathing spirit with Nicolas Cage's portrayal of Charlie Kaufman, the guy who wrote Being John Malkovich in real life. He's neurotic, lacking in self-esteem, incapable of functioning within the accepted social parameters of conversation and relationships, and he's always assuming the worst, yet he's struggling not to turn his work into the crap he thinks everyone else churns out - specifically his twin brother/possible imagination figment Donald, who's also playing the screenwriter game and thinking the by-the-numbers psychological-thriller claptrap he comes up with is brilliantly innovative.

The film is ingenious in that it seems to be completely about the making of itself. Charlie Kaufman struggles to adapt a New Yorker article called "The Orchid Thief" - all about a reporter (Streep) who follows an eccentric, to put it politely, and hilariously fucked-up, to put it impolitely, flower collector (Cooper) around and keeps a journal about it - into a motion picture without caving into craptastic Hollywood-style additions and bastardizations, so instead he twists it into a film about his own struggle to adapt the article into a movie without caving in. Believe me, it's not quite as complicated as it might sound when you're watching it - at least I didn't think so, but I might be a goddamned supergenius. Your mileage may vary, especially in the last 20 minutes or so of the film, where the very elaborate punchline comes in. If you catch it, congratulations, you can be snooty and pat yourself on the back for your uncanny ability to recognize subtle and scathing satire. If you don't catch it, you'll either be A) disappointed at the sudden cop-out of style and substance that had been established to that point or B) deliriously happy that the story finally begins to take a form that makes sense and feels familiar, like an old used sweat sock with a hole in it. To be fair, though, I got the joke just fine, yet I was still a little disappointed in the lack of an easy, expected payoff. The joke IS the payoff, and it must be accepted as such.

Chris Cooper deserves special mention for being hysterically funny and magnetically weird. "That's how much fuck fish." Meryl Streep also deserves special mention for reminding me that she does comedy reasonably well when called upon. "We have to kill him." Ron Livingston gets a prop or two as Kaufman's agent for delivering the line that almost knocked me out of my seat, although it only works if it catches you off-guard, so I shan't repeat it here.

This marks Nic Cage's welcome return to quality films after some questionable efforts I have no business impinging upon because I can't rightly remember seeing a Nic Cage film since maybe "Con Air," although I've been meaning to watch "Bringing Out The Dead," but that's more for Ving Rhames. And "Con Air" was a hoot.

Oh, wait, I saw "Snake Eyes." All I remember is boxing, Nic Cage in an open-collared shirt, Gary Sinise and shadows cast against a huge gray wall from around a corner. And swooping shots of various sundry things.

Anyway, Cage does a great job here as the twin brothers of opposing creative philosophies, and the clash between them is consistently entertaining and funny to watch, and they do feel like completely different characters, meaning I never felt like I was watching "The Nutty Screenwriter II: The Kaufmans." Nor did I feel I was watching a movie star play a role. His Charlie is wormy and pathetic in his unstoppably introspective way and his Donald/Imaginary Better Life Charlie Could Have If He Would Only Compromise His Integrity is just as he should be - a dense prick that you never want to become, despite the fact that he seems to really be enjoying his existence to the fullest and seems to mean well, for the most part.

A great film - one of the coolest I've seen in a long while.

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