Even though “Adaptation” has been out for while, I just got around to seeing it last weekend at the Mountlake Nine. This weird film tells the made up story of real life screenwriter Charles Kaufman as he tries to adapt the also real life book by New Yorker writer Susan Orleans called, “The Orchid Thief.”
Orleans’ book is about the lure of the wild orchid. In her book she documents time she spent in Florida with a bunch of orchid enthusiasts including a guy name Laroche who hired Seminole Indians to take orchid samples from the wild (which they can legally do) so that he could propagate and sell them.
Things are going to start getting a little complicated here, so try and keep up. Real life Charles Kaufman is played by the follicle-challenged Nicholas Cage. In the film, Kaufman, still flushed with the success of his first film (“Being John Malkovich”), is hired to write a screenplay of Orleans’ book. When he is confronted by a bad case of writer’s block and deadlines, he gets desperate and departs from established screenwriting principles into forbidden territory by making himself a part of the story.
Could a good writer make a screenplay out of Orlean’s book? According to what Kaufman has done, the only way to do this was to interject himself and a made up twin brother into the plot. In the end, the story is more about him and his struggle to write the screenplay than about the book he’s supposed to be adapting.
As a writing exercise, this screenplay might have been fun to read. But as a movie, I think it’s a disaster. Does Kaufman really think that we should accept this bit of lazy writing and applaud his creativity and willingness to search outside “the box” for story? This kind of “ain’t we cute” attitude drives me crazy!
Of course, what Kaufman (the real life one) is commenting on (I assume) is the stupid Hollywood tradition of trying to adapt anything wrapped in a book cover to the silver screen. His formula isn’t new (just add sex, guns, drugs and a car chase) and other than being an egomaniac about the whole thing, he doesn’t really take us beyond what we already know because of his addiction to the cute and kitschy.
The acting is really the only positive in this self indulgent, self-referential story. Nicholas Cage plays twins — Charles and Donald Kaufman and proves his ability by making both these brothers distinctly different. Meryl Streep gets to do a bit of walking on the wild side in this film and demonstrates that she’s got what it takes to be fabulous and over 50. But it’s Chris Cooper as the orchid thief, with his toothless grin and greasy hair, who proves that when it comes to animal magnetism, it’s not about anything but heart. His portrayal of the orchid thief is almost enough to make me recommend this film. But not quite.