Adaptation - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Adaptation Reviews

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Super Reviewer
December 15, 2012
A triumphantly meta film that takes every opportunity to take a filmic cliche and completely turn it on its head. This is writer Kaufman's movie as much as it is Jonze's, and the duo manage to provoke laughs, pathos, and thought in this surreal dive into the writing psyche, complete with a wonderful dual performance from Nicolas Cage.
Market Man
Super Reviewer
August 5, 2012
Adaptation is one of the most intelligent and original films I've ever seen. Charlie Kaufman did a fantastic job with the script and it makes the audience think; this is something that not a lot of films do. All the acting is great especially by Nicolas Cage who convincingly portrays two people. I really liked the main character, Charlie, who is someone we can relate to. This is a film that leaves a lasting impact not only because it's so unique, but because of how emotionally powerful it is. One of my favorites.
Super Reviewer
½ April 25, 2007
Scattershot almost stream of consciousness mess of a movie. Meryl Streep was nominated for an Oscar for this? I'm a fan of hers but her part is a nothing and while she acquits herself professionally there is nothing special about her work.
Super Reviewer
August 11, 2012
''You are what you love, not what loves you. That's what I decided a long time ago.''
Super Reviewer
½ May 23, 2012
A great performance from Cage as the crazy Kaufman siblings. In terms of the story, it was confusing at times however I found it enjoyable and interesting to watch. There was a huge aspect of guessing what was true and what was fiction, but the brothers are very likeable characters, and as a writer I can definitely place myself in Charlie's shoes and identify with him, which in some ways is scary but also liberating. Definitely something I'd recommend with many very funny moments but also a lot of emotional scenes which really grab your heart.
paul o.
Super Reviewer
½ October 25, 2011
Either Charlie Kaufman is a genius or a psycho but in the end, one cannot help but comment on how well written his script was. Writing about his troubles with adapting the orchid thief may be pretencious but with Spike Jonze's directing, it seems like a story with a great triumph at the end.
Super Reviewer
½ June 29, 2011
"Adaptation" is Charlie Kaufman's crowning achievement. Everyone will say it's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" because it's insultingly accessible at times and it's 'oh so indie.' "Adaptation" does not play nice, fair or easy. While the film is incredibly funny things turn incredibly dark. In terms of a portrait of a writer's psyche (shown with both Charlie and Susan) it's unparalleled (in American cinema that is). The performances are suitably preposterous. Nicolas Cage can be a dynamic actor when he wants to be and he understands Charlie ten fold. Meryl Streep on the other hand is simply a revelation, plunging into the depths of Susan in extremely unexpected ways. Spike Jonze understand this material. He has a firm grasp on the meta aspects as well as the comedy and the very human characters. Edgy, smart and brilliantly scripted "Adaptation" is one of the most original films to come out of the 00s.
Super Reviewer
June 8, 2011
Effectively explores the often passionless, mundane world of every day existence in an unlikely study and an even more unlikely romance.

Cage's journey towards epiphany is chronicled in a series of emotional outbursts that aren't just engaging but make great juxtaposition with his brother (also Cage)

Streep's parallel venture to find passion in life leads her to fall in love with an unlikely man. When these plots merge seamlessly together in a fitting closure you can't help but appreciate it's clever workings.
Super Reviewer
½ May 27, 2007
While I don't have anything against this movie per se, I do think it lacks a lot of heart. I mean, sure, it's clever and all that jazz (but at this point, it's like, anything Kaufman lays his hands on is going to be clever, you know? it's like Woody Allen and Jewishness, it's weird if it's not there), and I do think it does have a lot to say about originality and creativity and procrastination and mental illness, but I can't the shake artificial feelings I get from watchng this a second time. I think the first time I was so pre-dazzled by Eternal Sunshine and its incredible cleverness that I jumped to call it a favorite, but it falters a bit under reappraisal. Because I do think the emotional content is empty...even though I know that's sort of purposeful.
Super Reviewer
May 29, 2011
Another movie that ends with "Happy Together!" Nicolas Cage is neurotic, frenetic, pathetic, and oddly romantic. The metafictional motif of this story is just clever as all get out, and the textbook definitions of how-not-to write a screenplay are executed without melodrama or apology.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ May 1, 2011
Although authors in general have pretty interesting lives, the physical act of writing is not particularly cinematic. Numerous filmmakers have tried to put writing on screen, but more often than not their efforts resemble po-faced versions of Monty Python's writing sketch, in which Michael Palin commentates on Thomas Hardy beginning his latest novel to a soundtrack of hysterical football supporters.

Adaptation is among the more successful attempts to put pen to paper on the silver screen. The reputation that Charlie Kaufman has accrued over the last decade leads us to expect the very best, and his screenplay is refreshingly loopy and intelligent. But it is not an unqualified success, being neither as tolerably quirky as Being John Malkovich nor as accessible in terms of characters as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The first hurdle which Adaptation has to overcome is the dangers associated with being self-reflexive. There is a very thin line between being self-aware and self-obsessed, and the more one points out how much what we are seeing is a construct, the greater the risk of a film becoming more of an academic discussion than an exercise in drama.

There have been writers who have sought to deliberately exploit this alienating effect. Bertolt Brecht wrote plays whose characters constantly remind the audience that what they are seeing isn't real, so that they would ask deeper questions about the world around them. In a similar way, Kaufman wants to demonstrate the relationship between art and reality while giving the audience some form of artifice to pull them through. In wanting us to both unpick every line and enjoy the story in itself, he succeeds wholeheartedly on the first part and partially on the second.

Adaptation is really two films running side by side. One is about a screenwriter struggling to adapt The Orchid Thief, and the other is about Charlie Kaufman struggling to be Charlie Kaufman, who also happens to be adapting The Orchid Thief. The film mixes personal insight into Kaufman's condition with more general ideas and comments about writing. It's hard to tell whether the Charlie Kaufman on screen is Kaufman himself, or a subtly exaggerated version as in Being John Malkovich. But in the end there is enough in the way of drama to prevent us expending all our energies on such restrictive lines of inquiry.

With this double-barrelled structure in place, Adaptation can begin to explore a number of themes, all of which use writing as a metaphor for modern life. The first of these is the classic conflict between creativity and commercial success, something which has been previously explored in films like Barton Fink. But where the Coen Brothers explored this in a contrast between John Turturro's character and the industry oddballs surrounding him, Kaufman and Spike Jonze try something a lot more introspective.

Using seamless split-screen shooting, Jonze has Nicolas Cage playing both Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald. Charlie is the creative genius who believes in his principles and pushing the envelope of his art form - and who as a result is neurotic, depressed and exhausted. Donald, on the other hand, is a hack writer who is content to play the industry game and wants to be happy above everything else.

The conventional thing to do would be to wage war between the brothers with Charlie coming out on top in a definitive triumph of art over money. It's a corner that Kaufman is entitled to fight, but he knows that being a screenwriter is not that straightforward - and he knows that we know it too. Instead of being constantly at loggerheads, Charlie and Donald begin to take on each other's traits, from Donald using Charlie's facetious suggestion in his script to Charlie attending a Robert McKee seminar.

The point that Kaufman is trying to make is not simply the need to balance artistic purity with a sense of realism, but about how obsessing with one's art can lead one to lose sight of what really matters - the audience and happiness respectively. Charlie receives a drubbing from McKee for claiming that there can be no inspiration in ordinary life: in pursuing purity he has lost sight of whom he is serving as an artist. Donald is the device through which Charlie learns to adapt to the needs of the book, the needs of his audience and thereby to the needs in life in general.

Within this there is an existential comment about our perception and creation of personal realities. When asked by his agent what the problem with the book is, Charlie blurts out that it has no story, to which his agent calmly responds: "Make one up." In the absence of a defined progression from A to B in our lives - or at least, one that we can plainly perceive - we invent metanarratives and motivations for ourselves, if nothing else so that we don't have to spend all our time staring at a blank page.

Adaptation also refers to evolution, which plays out in great detail in one of Charlie's early drafts. There is a discussion as to whether such change is mandatory, and if it is, then whether the need to show anyone is also mandatory. Meryl Streep's character begins as a clearly-drawn journalist, but as the film moves on we see the various changes which have occurred and how she has attempted to conceal these adaptations. There is a comparison with her character in Plenty, insofar as both women have their lives changed by chance encounters with men and spent the remainder of their lives becoming slowly disillusioned by a world which does not accept their new ideals.

Some of you may have noticed that, in this review so far, I have devoted very little time to the director. That is less an indictment of Jonze's abilities than a reflection of the film's nature. Adaptation is a film in which the screenplay is the main player; it governs and determines everything, and Jonze's direction is appropriately understated to facilitate this. One could almost argue that Adaptation is the 8 1/2 of screenwriters, challenging both the auteur theory in which the director is king and audience perceptions that films are driven or dominated by actors.

But Jonze's stand-offish approach also hints at the flaws with Adaptation. Despite the best efforts of both writer and director, whole sections do feel academic, with too much voiceover and too little drama. There is an argument that this is deliberate on the part of Kaufman to show how we dramatize so much of our lives, writing ourselves into clichés and conventions. But this jars with the film's message that this is an inevitable process which should be accepted, and as the later work of Woody Allen shows, neurosis and self-hate are not enough on their own to pull us into a story.

On top of this, most of the characters are in one way or another very irritating. Nicolas Cage is very good as both Charlie and Donald, but you end up wanting to strangle the former for being so pathetic - particularly when he goes all the way to New York, stands in a lift with Meryl Streep and doesn't have the guts to speak to her. Streep starts off well, but eventually she becomes too showy and her breakdown seems overdone.

Then there is the group of New York intellectuals whose company Streep keeps; the dinner party sequence veers so close to the work of Noah Baumbach that had it gone on any longer, you would lose all patience with her character. The best performance by a mile is Chris Cooper, who genuinely inhabits John Laroche. You can almost smell the manky clothing and un-brushed teeth, and his rambling swathes of dialogue are both insightful and broadly comedic.

Adaptation is another intelligent effort from Kaufman which is partially hamstrung by its character construction and Jonze's unwillingness to be more commanding with his camera. The ideas which the film raises are fascinating, and even Kaufman at his weakest is more insightful and engaging than half the screenwriters working in Hollywood today. But ironically for a film about writing, it would have benefited most from a director willing to put his foot down and create something a little less didactic.
Super Reviewer
½ March 11, 2008
"There are too many ideas and things and people. Too many directions to go. I was starting to believe the reason it matters to care passionately about something, is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size."

What a unique movie. I honestly don't have much of an idea how to review it, it's so rambling, expansive, and hard to categorize. On the surface, it's about a shy, socially-inhibited screenwriter who is struggling to write an adaptation of a book. You'll soon see that Adaptation is much more ambitious and "meta" than that.

I did like it, though. To say that I'm not generally a fan of Nicholas Cage would be an understatement, but he occasionally shines in movies like these. Offbeat, "different" movies where his quirkiness translates well to the subject material.

I think it's safe to say that fans of Charlie Kaufman's other work will enjoy this. It's undoubtably an intelligent movie that requires an open mind and an affinity for new film experiences.
Super Reviewer
February 20, 2007
A screenwriter struggles with the adaptation of an unstructured and naval gazing book as well as his own neuroses. Adaptation is one of the cleverest and most honest scripts I have ever seen committed to celluloid and is more a film about the process of scriptwriting than anything else. Charlie and his twin brother Donald are clearly two sides of the same character and his struggle to maintain his self respect while at the same time appeasing the studio makes for some very funny and insightful moments. The cast are all great, particularly Nicolas Cage who comes up with easily the best performance of his career. In fact I'm beginning to suspect that there was no camera trickery at all and that there are actually two of him; Charlie Cage who starred in this, Leaving Las Vegas and Raising Arizona, and Donald Cage who was the one in Con Air, Face/Off and Ghost Rider. I would have to say that the final act of the film is easily the least interesting part, something I suspect Kaufman did intentionally to make a point but that isn't a comfort when you're sitting through it. It's certainly a very smart and witty film, but on second viewing I would have to say I understood it more but enjoyed it less. If that makes any sense...
Super Reviewer
January 14, 2007
Unusual and truly brilliant movie where a screenwriter writes movie about himself writing a movie about himself. I found I could really relate to the protagonist. Follow-up to "Being John Malkovich".
Super Reviewer
April 4, 2010
A movie, about making a movie. So simple that no other film except perhaps Peeping Tom, can compare. Besides the fact that this film centers around the making of the screenplay writer's earlier films, and an actual book adaptation, it gets trippy. Cage takes on the roles of twin brothers, aged by the temperament of the industry, while such legends as Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper hash out another storyline so poised for exceptional growth that it leaps off the screen. Overall an excellent addition to Kaufman's resume.
Super Reviewer
½ June 14, 2006
Once again the combination of director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman makes for one of the weirder films of recent Hollywood years. The conjunction of the two stories, a screenplay writer struggling with his adaptation of a successful novel and the real events behind said screenplay in flashbacks, is extraordinarily well done. Of course that also makes the movie a bit of a mess each time the screenwriter goes through a messy period. His portrayal by Nic Cage is certainly one of his most outstanding performances to date. A film that is as hard to describe as it is to love. But in the end it's still very satisfying as an attempt to emphasize the feelings of a writer and someone who doesn't live life to the fullest, but needs tragedy to realize it.
Super Reviewer
September 8, 2010
not interested
Super Reviewer
January 4, 2010
Every time I see this movie I enjoy it more. Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze created a word that is so far into the surreal and bizarre that you are almost tricked into seeing it as a comedy from first glance. However, this is far from one and probably the only thing that makes it reminiscent of one anymore is Donald and Laroche's character choices and personalities. There's a real story going on that is both tragic and almost chaotic. The transference from each movie within a movie to screenplay within a screenplay is baffling at times. Kaufman even says it's self indulgent while narrating. I don't think this story could take place on any normal level though because the manipulation of a simple flower story is one of the most interesting ways to adapt something. Nicholas Cage delivers two amazing performances that by some miracle play off each other extremely well. It's one of the times in his career where he doesn't seem to be himself in any way, but purely a character(s) that could exist in reality.
Super Reviewer
½ August 20, 2009
A mostly dazzling delight of a movie, with a literally two-faced performance from Nicolas Cage, who is spellbinding. Although the film gets muddled in its final act, for the most part this is a enchanting film dealing with the struggles of writing, and how this evolving obsession can eventually lead to devastating circumstances, whether it by physical or emotional trauma. The acting all-around was good, and I think I get what the movie was trying to say in it's last quarter, but I thought it could've been sharpened a little bit more. Still a good movie, but it definitely had the potential to be great, which it missed by just a tad.
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