I few nights ago I had finished my teaching duties for the day and caught “Adaptation” on the Sundance Channel.
If you haven’t seen it, the film follows screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt Susan Orlean’s novel “The Orchid Thief” into a major motion picture.
Both Kaufman and Orlean are real people and are played by Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep, respectively, and “The Orchid Thief” is a real book based on an article Orlean wrote for “The New Yorker” in 1995.
Nicholas Cage has caught a bad rap because of a string of ridiculous films including the loathed “Ghost Rider” franchise, but in this 2002 film he’s actually amazing.
He plays both Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother Donald, who is actually not a person in real life, but more on that later.
Charlie is a self-obsessive, worrying introvert who is trying to present his screenplay as being simply about flowers rather than adding typical Hollywood action or romance into the plot.
As we follow Charlie through his manic voice-overs we learn that the Orchid Thief is a man named John Laroche (Chris Cooper) who ventures into Florida state parks to obtain the rare Ghost Orchid.
When he is caught by park rangers, Laroche reminds that he enters the land with members of the Seminole tribe and they have a legal right to obtain said flowers.
Charlie becomes blocked and nerve-wracked over his inability to write the screenplay and eventually makes himself a character in it and enlists his brother to help him with the script after Donald took a screen writing course and sold a film script.
If Charlie is reserved, Donald is the exact opposite.
He is crass, loud, obnoxious and just generally goofy. When Charlie can’t face meeting Orlean in person, he sends Donald in his place.
The rest becomes crazy to say the least, but I’ll leave you to find that out.
What I really love about this film is that once Charlie decides to put himself in the script about half an hour into it, you realize that the plot he finally writes has been in motion since the first seconds of the movie.
Well, you probably realized that but it took me owning the movie and watching it more than 20 times to get it.
The film is the work of both Kaufman and director Spike Jonze.
Jonze made his way into the movie business by directing some of the most iconic music videos of the 1990s, including the Beastie Boy’s legendary “Sabotage” video.
The first time we actually see Charlie is on the set of the amazingly bizarre “Being John Malkovich,” which the two also collaborated on and gave Jonze an Oscar nod for his directing.
In addition to the great plot and acting by Cage and Streep, an amazing ensemble cast – including Cooper, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton and Ron Livingston – adds a great element of the quirky world of adapting novels into films.
The film racked up a ton of Oscar nominations, with Cage and Streep being nominated and Cooper winning for best supporting actor.
After seeing it in the theater, my buddy Seth Stephens and I found Cooper’s take on Laroche’s notorious qualities of being a character.
In addition, the film made history when both Charlie and Donald were both nominated for (what else) best adapted screenplay and won.
Donald Kaufman became the first fictitious person to be nominated and win an Oscar.
The film is a quirky, hilarious look at the Hollywood film business and the pressure put on the people who grind out the profession on a daily basis and ends with a serious bang.