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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Adaptation (2002)



Reviews and Comments

Like Being John Malkovich before it, Adaptation is a devilishly clever movie. It began (ostensibly) as a screenplay adapted from The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, and wound up as not only that but an adaptation of the process of adapting it. Screenwriter Charles Kaufman wrote himself into the story, along with a fabricated twin brother, apparently representing another side of his conflicted personality. This leads to multiple layers of reality, as it is a character in the movie that is writing it, and yet there is a writer on the outside of the whole thing, too. Further complicating the matter is that the author of the book is a character in both the book storyline and the adaptation storyline. It's not as confusing as it sounds; the movie plays soundly on a basic level, and experiencing it on additional higher levels is optional.

Beyond the toying with ideas and layers of reality, there are some good performances and entertaining reflective musings about...well, all manner of wacky topics. But despite that I liked it, I don't embrace it as the modern classic some do -- this was the case with Being John Malkovich, too, and I think the reason why is that they lack emotional centers. I respect Adaptation too much to say that it is merely a gratuitous exercise in cleverness; nevertheless, this is the direction I feel it leans in. After I have laughed, after I have taken the pleasure inherent in untangling the overlapping themes and knotted threads, where is the meaning it all has for me? Where is the significance of the work? I certainly can't find it.

Still, there is value in a work that is both smart, funny, and compelling, and so I do recommend Adaptation -- highly -- even if I can't sing along with its most spirited of followers.