Adaptation (2002) is compelling. I don’t remember who told me I should see this film, maybe it was someone involved in the industry. Probably this is one of those films educators advise students to watch, as it sheds light (or pokes fun) at the writing process.
The basic idea is a screenwriter (Charlie) is going crazy trying to adapt a book into a movie script. He is competent, but a bit neurotic with his self-doubts. He knows he wants to focus on the theme of the book (flowers), but can’t figure out how to really get started or what direction to go. His frustrations are exacerbated by his brother (Donald), who is a bit of a bumbling fool, who has decided that he too will take up screenwriting like his brother…in writing his first screenplay, Donald does everything Charlie hates – bad plot, bad scenes, he attends a professional seminar and treats all of the advice he’s given as truth. Both of these roles are played by Nicholas Cage. Normally I don’t like his movies…but when he’s a non-action role, I think I like him better. He does well in this film.
Meryl Streep plays the book’s author Susan. Her story revolves around her book research, and her increasingly complex relationship with the star of the book…an interesting character named John Laroche, played by Chris Cooper. It’s really the eccentric Laroche and Cooper’s performance in the role that is the star of this film as well.
“That’s how much fuck fish” is one of my favorite lines in the movie. John is explaining to Susan how he drops one subject after a while, and gets completely engrossed in the next, without looking back. He goes from turtles, to Ice Age fossils, to fish, and ultimately to plants.
“Look I’ll tell you a story, all right? I once fell deeply, you know, profoundly, in love with tropical fish. Had sixty fish god damn tanks in my house. I’d skin dive to find just the right ones…then one day I say fuck fish. I renounce fish. I vow never to set foot in that ocean again. That’s how much fuck fish.”
At one point, Charlie decides to actually take Donald’s advice to attend one of the story seminars, given by Robert McKee. It’s one of those classic university-style classrooms with the stadium seating. And Charlie is in the center of the frame, stands up, he’s hunched over and looking a bit pathetic, and asks a question in all sincerity. And then McKee puts him in his place, as Charlie later says “shaking him to the bone”.
Charlie: “Sir, what if the writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens? Where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies, they struggle, and are frustrated, and nothing is resolved, more a reflection of the real world.”
Robert McKee: “The real world? First of all, you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your audience to tears. Secondly, nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your fucking mind? People are murdered every day. There’s genocide, war, corruption, every fucking day, somewhere in the world somebody sacrifices his life to save somebody else. Every fucking day someone somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ’s sake, a child watches a mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you my friend don’t know crap about life. And why the fuck are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don’t have any use for it, I don’t have any bloody use for it.”
Charlie: “Okay, thanks.”
That whole exchange is so beautifully done. And who can’t empathize with a moment of utter humility, like being ripped on by a teacher. There are so many great moments in this film, so many funny moments.
|Rating: 7.7/10 (128,627 votes)
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Susan Orlean (book), Charlie Kaufman (screenplay), Donald Kaufman (screenplay)
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
Runtime: 114 min
Genre: Comedy, Drama
|Plot: A lovelorn screenwriter becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean for the screen.|