ADAPTATION (2002) – Review

Meryl Streep as 'Susan Orlean,' and Chris Cooper as 'John Laroche,' Adaptation, 2002 - Columbia Pictures

It’s supposed to be a film about flowers.

Adaptation is one of the movies on my list of films that I never expected to watch, let alone review. But here I am, writing a review of a film I thought I never watch. A dear friend and I have this ongoing conversation about Nicolas Cage and his mediocre acting skills. He believes that Cage is under-appreciated; and I think that Cage as an actor, for lack of a better word–stinks. See, Cage is on my list of actors whose films I would never watch simply because these actors are in it (It’s a pretty short list – Eva Mendez is also on the list, so is William Shatner). However, that is another post for another time. Straight away, I found that Adaptation would be unlike the other deleterious films I’ve seen Cage star in (Sorcerer’s Apprentice) just to name one. Instead, Adaptation is one of those movies that for me, came all together and unexpectedly enjoyable.

Adaptation is an adaptive comedy about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Cage) and his screenwriting fictitious brother Donald Kaufman (also played by Cage). He was hired to adapt a screenplay about Susan Orlean‘s (Meryl Streep) book The Orchid Thief–based on John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who was arrested in Florida for allegedly poaching rare orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, while working with Seminole Indians. The movie begins where Being John Malkovich ends–with Charlie shuffling around in the distance, obscuring a shot. He is the creator of the script, originator of the film, and the reason everyone is there shooting–but no one realizes who he is or his reason for being there.[easyazon_image align=”right” cloak=”y” height=”500″ identifier=”B007A43WA4″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”” tag=”amideyeonhu-20″ width=”333″] 

The Orchid Thief is a straightforward, and real story, however, Charlie is troubled with converting the book into a drama worthy of Hollywood’s big-screen audiences. He instead wrote the script about himself, a screenwriter–who could not find a way to adapt the book, into a movie. The story cross-cuts into the scenes where Susan Orlean (Streep) is also writing her book inspired by “orchid thief” Laroche (Cooper), who obsesses about the flowers.  But Charlie isn’t aware of this part of the saga yet. He’s obsessed with his failures. He believes that he is uninspired, fat, balding, and get super nervous around pretty women. What does this have to do with his script? Well just about everything. He is awkward around people. He said so himself, and he has concluded that’s his problem–he needed to meet Orlean. But not just yet.

What made matters worse for the mild-mannered and extremely timid Charlie Kaufman was his eccentric twin brother Donald, who stayed with him. Like Charlie, Donald decides that he wants to be a screenwriter, but his approach to the art of screenwriting is as his personality–overt and reckless; while his brother wallows in self-deprecating subconscious banter about wanting his script to be as personable, or as real as Orlean’s book. What winds up happening–Charlie is forced to face his adaptation deficiency with the help of his brother Donald.

Donald isn’t having any trouble with his screenplay. He cranks out a 6-figured script with the greatest of ease while his brother is utterly stressing out over his script for The Orchid Thief. So he suggests that Charlie attend a screenwriting seminar by screenwriting guru Robert McKee (Brian Cox), who’s method of dramatic storytelling is structurally organized–something Charlie enough hates. Out of desperation; he takes the class, if anything, it allowed him some form of redemption; however, he doesn’t have a script yet and here is where the movie starts to “get real,” and fall into its predictable ‘Hollywood‘ manner which is expected and downright unavoidable.

As in every story, there is always a “back-story,” and Donald concludes that Charlie’s problem is a straightforward one–instead of obsessing over writing a script about a woman and flowers, and he should find out more about who this woman is. He was confident that Orlean’s more intriguing than her book.

Meanwhile, Orlean is busy with her book and obsession with Laroche, and this obsession leads into an unconventional romance filled with orchids, drugs, and resulting perpetual dilemmas. As much as Charlie wanted the film to take a more literal approach to Orlean’s book–it morphed into a decidedly different tale of deceit, attempted murder, car chases–and a man versus swamp-beast event, which was entirely opposite of his original intent for the film–which may have been the whole point of the “real” Kaufman script. The acting talents as a whole made the whole of events intense and engaging. I enjoyed the inner struggle and moral battles each character had to contend with and their attempt to overcome them.[easyazon_image align=”right” cloak=”y” height=”500″ identifier=”B00NPO0C88″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”” tag=”amideyeonhu-20″ width=”320″]

I believe Streep’s character, Susan Orlean, summed things up best when she explicitly stated: “Adaptation is a film about truly lonely people and their genius.” Often, this ability creates a soul’s madness enabling its masters to partake in something more than their lonely passions: Laroche had his flowers; Orlean had her sexual liberation; and Charlie, through his script resulted in the evolution of himself. Donald? Well, we didn’t have to worry too much about Donald. He did okay.

Overall, Adaptation is an enjoyable film, and it wasn’t good solely because of Cage’s acting performance–he wasn’t the only acting presence that carried the story. Streep, Cooper, and the rest of the all-star ensemble (Swinton, Gyllenhaal, and Cox) warrants acting credits. Solely, it is the brilliant script writing by the “real” Charlie Kaufman, and the excellent directing talent of Spike Jonze. The actors are mere complements. The character’s turmoils complicated by their genius, their emotions, and the events that emanated from each–which served them only as a resolve from very personal, prevailing sadness.

Actors are personified only by a great script and a great director. I concede to Cage’s best acting performance in Adaptation as evidence to only that.


  • Editor Rating

  • Rated 4 stars
  • Excellent

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  • Last modified: 2016-09-07

Review Summary:

A lovelorn screenwriter becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt 'The Orchid Thief' by Susan Orlean for the screen.

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