In a year full of movies like Magnolia, American Beauty, O Brother, Where Art Thou, Gladiator, Toy Story 2, the list goes on, Being John Malkovich entered the fray relatively quietly. But that feeling of reservedness only lasts until you actually see the film.
The first quarter seems like crazy on overload, then by the second half, you realise that this feeling is just the craziness straining to get off the leash. Our main Craig Schwartz is a puppeteer, specialising in, shall we say, more adult puppet shows than most streetgoers are used to catching glimpses of on a city street corner. After feeling the need to get a real job, he takes up a filing position at LesterCorp. After working on the 71/2 floor (a gag which needs to be seen to be understood) for a while, he finds something interesting about the building in which he works. Something interesting in the form of a small door which has some startling side effects upon entering. From there the film goes crackerdog with some ridiculous scenes and even more ridiculous plotlines with some great gags to boot.
At the centre of the madness is Craig Schwartz, played by an on-top-of-his-game John Cusack. Cusack really is fantastic here were in some films he might feel forced or out of place. He plays the miserable straight man perfectly and leaves plenty of room to move with great use of restraint throughout the film. Cameron Diaz is similiarly refreshing in this and helps to make you realise that, despite the typical hollywood look and not the most consistent choice of roles, she is a fantastic actress, and one with a funnybone too. As the third side of the Diaz/Cuzack love triangle, Catherine Keener excels as Maxine Lund. She makes a true character out of what could have been your typical seductress: smart, strange, confident, all that jazz. And of course, the man in the title, John Malkovich, is brilliant, playing the whiny, paranoid, uppity actor, unafraid to send himself up so entirely and so committedly. He's often good at crazy and it shows in this.
Spike Jonze's direction in this is outstanding. He makes use of some very strange angles in order to position his audience perfectly, manipulating us like puppets who can't feel the strings. Never has a dancing puppet felt so real and emotional as it has with him at its helm.
But it's the script that makes this movie so outstanding. Today, Kaufman scripts are well known to be amazing but it was this breakout screenplay that created the reputation and platform for such pieces as Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synedoche, New York. The everyday language is something to behold; a curious blend of realism and biting comedy, it takes you by surprise every time. Scenes such as the job interview are just portions of the sparkling wit surrounded by utter ridiculousness which is the majority of the film. But possibly the best thing about the script is the fact that what could have become a one-trick-pony very easily is most definitely a complete work. It may limp across the finish line but there is no doubt that the film is resolved in those last chilling moments. And, in trend-setting for any Kaufman scripts which followed after, the underlying message behind all the crazy set pieces is the thing which will stay with you the longest.
Being John Malkovich will definitely not be everyone's cup of tea. There are its lovers, and just as strong there are its haters. And even though there may be the odd misstep here and there, one thing's for sure: it's a movie experience you'll never forget. And if that's not what film is about, what is?
Malkovich. Malkovich Malkovich. Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich.
Don't stand in the way of my actualisation as a man!
There's a tiny door in my office.
I have no time for piddling suggestions from mumbling job applicants.
Truth is for suckers, Johnny Boy.
"Are you married?" "Yes but enough about me."
I've been very lonely in my isolated tower of indecipherable speech.
My spunk is to you manna from heaven
Shut up you overrated piece of shit!