Thursday, February 2, 2012

Losing The Translation To Attempts At Wittiness, Adaptation. Fizzles.

The Good: Decent acting, Good opening
The Bad: Degenerates into a scholarly experiment, Pacing, Lack of sensible character development, Utter lack of plot
The Basics: Adaptation. begins as a slow story about a ridiculously nervous screenwriter and degenerates into a disappointing scholarly exercise even a person with a comparative literature major couldn't enjoy.

As a novelist, I am always interested in what is new and different. I went into Adaptation. with high hopes and reasonable expectations. I had enjoyed Being John Malkovich and I found the previews to Adaptation. compelling. That said, I was horribly disappointed.

Opening with Charlie Kaufman, who actually did write the film Adaptation., the fictional character is pushed aside on the set of his own film and he is portrayed instantly though his own voiceover as a loser. Charlie then goes on to get the film rights to the book "The Orchid Thief" and struggles with making what he finds a great novel into an even remotely workable film. The narrative bounces between Kaufman's agonizing attempts to write the film while his twin brother Donald makes a very "Hollywood" horror script and the past where Susan Orlean researches and writes "The Orchid Thief." Orlean is led by John Laroche, a Florida redneck who is an expert on orchids.

Adaptation. does very well in the beginning, despite some serious pacing problems. While the film focuses on the difficulty of translating a book about ideas and emotions into a film - i.e. not adding characters and/or attempting to have contrived plot devices - it works well. Even as Susan works on writing some of the compelling lines Charlie gets hooked on, the narrative flows. In the beginning of the film, Adaptation. is a movie about nothing about writing a film about nothing.

And it's slow. It's dreadfully slow, in fact. That works for a little while, when focusing on Charlie, but not when the attention shifts to Susan and John. Alas, the pace does not pick up in those moments.

Had the film remained a film about nothing, that could have been fine. It could have endured as a film about the struggle to write and even been intriguing to non-writers.

Unfortunately, about halfway through the film, Adaptation. becomes obsessed with the conventions of movie-making and all of the cliches and stereotypes of the typical Hollywood film. It is at this point in the movie that Adaptation. surrenders all of its reasonable and plausible premises and degenerates into what it hates. That is, Kaufman becomes disappointed with the conventions of writing a film personified in Robert McKee. These conventions are such things as the importance of plot, the lack of voiceovers and the "standards" like the car chase, the moral at the end, and the use of a popular song in a film.

Adaptation. seeks to make a satire of these conventions in the latter half of the film and as a result it becomes both snobby and ridiculous. In attempting to mock the establishment, Adaptation. sinks into it, becoming the worst cliche of all. This film is roughly equivalent to the upper class intellectual who despises sports in their social circles and then sneaks away to play football (note: not squash) on the weekends. It's hypocritical when it attempts to be clever and ultimately this film lets us down by sacrificing the characters and ideals of the beginning for the quick fix the end provides.

The only redeeming aspect of this film is the acting. Nicolas Cage plays Charlie wonderfully. Cage also plays the somewhat pointless Donald well and quite differently. Cage is a fine actor here. Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton are both wonderful as Susan and Valerie. The scene stealer is Chris Cooper, who plays John Laroche. Cooper deserved the Golden Globe Award he won last week for playing Laroche. Fans of "American Beauty" will remember Cooper as the militant marine next door, Colonel Fitts. Here he plays a very different, far more alive character and he does it quite well.

Unfortunately, even the acting cannot save this film. What it tries to mock pretentiously, it becomes in the last act. So even when we recognize that it is mocking the phenomenon of the stylized film industry, when drugs and guns come into play, it tries to play it seriously and it is impossible for the viewer to accept the abrupt about face. It results in the film ceasing to mock bad films and it instead becomes one.

Ultimately, this is a terribly slow film. I mean dreadfully. I felt like the film was at least three and a half hours long and was shocked to learn that it was, in actuality 114 minutes. And keep in mind, I was looking forward to this film.

For other reality-bending films, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sucker Punch


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Reviews Index Page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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