Saturday, March 12, 2011

NIC CAGE MONTH: Adaptation. (2002)

Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

"Nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your fucking mind? People are murdered every day. There's genocide, war, corruption. Every fucking day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else. Every fucking day, someone, somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ's sake, a child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can't find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don't know crap about life! And why the FUCK are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don't have any use for it! I don't have any bloody use for it!"
-Robert McKee, summing up one of the movie's cardinal themes. 

Two Nicolas Cages. Let me just reiterate that for those slower folks among you…TWO NIC CAGES. THAT’S DOUBLE THE NIC CAGE. Why isn’t this movie talked about more? I mean…it’s two Nic Cages, on screen at the same fucking time! I think the universe just imploded. Monkeys are flying, pigs learned to talk and George W. Bush has been given the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s quite an accomplishment.

I mean, think about it. This movie could have easily been told with two different actors playing the roles of the Kaufman brothers. It’s played pretty straightforward. But they decided to go the extra mile and just have two Nicolas Cages playing both twin brothers. That’s…I don’t even know what that is. It’s both awesome and extremely eccentric.


Phew. OK, aside from the obvious cosmic anomaly present, this movie is actually a really good one. It’s called Adaptation, and it’s about a struggling writer (a fictionalized version of Charlie Kaufman), who is working on a script and has a pretty big case of writer’s block. His agency is pressuring him, his twin brother is becoming a more successful writer and he just can’t seem to get laid. At all. His life pretty much sucks. But that’s only because he hasn’t…adapted.

Lame joke, but at the same time, it also sums up what this movie is trying to get across. Adaptation is a movie of parallels and paradoxes. Nicolas Cage’s character…the first one…is writing about a woman who is writing about orchids. The woman, played admirably by Meryl Streep, is also given her own story arc in a series of cutaways to ‘3 years ago’ – this movie is heavily in love with playing around with time. She’s another paradox in herself, with her main thing being that she is passionate about nothing except finding passion, which she is convinced she hasn’t done yet. Nic Cage’s Charlie, again, could be described the same way. The whole thing is just really cleverly done. It does tend to feel self congratulating a bit, like it’s just SO proud of its own wit, but overall I don’t find it intrusive.

The whole movie is wrapped up in the big theme of finding one’s own way in life, adapting to change and blossoming, as if in the throes of a late stage of puberty. Nic Cage’s character Charlie constantly tries to start up his life but is too afraid to go all the way. He fails at asking out a pretty waitress at a diner, and then is too afraid to meet with Streep’s character when his agent tries to put them together in a last ditch effort to finish the script. He needs to adapt. His most crushing failure is perhaps when he can’t even get the nice girl-next-door who really likes him but is waiting for him to do something. She just finds another guy who does have the balls to say something to her. His brother is more adept than he is; at least he gets Maggie Gyllenhaal to be his girlfriend.

There’s another clever thing – duality, two Nic Cages, Charlie and Donald Kaufman, both with very different approaches to life. You have to feel sorry for him when his brother Donald gets his trashy serial killer horror script (based slightly on the movie Thr3e, which I will review here sometime, as it is horrible) picked up. That’s a slap in the face, man. But it also shows the dichotomy between Charlie’s artsy, holier-than-thou attitude towards writing (“I want to write a movie without any big Hollywood clichés”) versus Donald’s more straightforward approach. That is what sells, and overall it isn’t surprising when Donald’s more conventional, less artistic script is the one that gets somewhere. Cage must also adapt to the expectations of a movie-watching public.

Most of the movie is spent with Charlie whining about what he can’t do. He even wonders where he came from to the tune of…a 10 second montage that chronologically tells how mankind first came into existence.

Did I mention this movie was written and directed by the guy who did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Just thought that might put things into perspective for some people.

On the other side of things, there is brother Donald (the ‘other’ Nic Cage…you know) who is adapting quite well, even despite Charlie’s insistence that he’s a nuisance and an idiot – sometimes, apparently, idealism works better than hard-nosed cynicism. Putting oneself out there to be criticized and to be put down, so one can get back up again and improve…that’s life! That’s adapting. Charlie doesn’t know how to do that, and neither does Meryl Streep’s character, who can’t even muster up a pulse any more lively than a coma patient’s. On the other hand, there’s also Laroche (Chris Cooper), the friend of Streep’s who she’s writing the book about. He has pretty much fully adapted and knows his place in the world – hunting for rare plant life in swamps - like the back of his hand.

The acting is all pretty damn solid, with Nic Cage and Meryl Streep giving standout performances. Nic Cage especially, as he has to do two different parts on screen at the same time, both with vastly different personalities. That takes talent! Chris Cooper as John Laroche is good, too; gruff and raw, living life the way he wants. All of these characters are clearly defined and will make you believe they are who they say they are. Even though there’s some serious star power here, it doesn’t ever feel like a collage of big names and bigger faces, and that’s always good for a film like this.

The first two acts are pretty melodramatic and slow paced. They focus more on the acting of Nic Cage (times two) and his attempts to blossom. The third act, in another paradoxal twist, is the blossoming of the movie’s action (in the same way that one old goat of a screenwriter told Cage to make the third act action-packed), turning it into a high octane chase with a drug scandal, adultery and the swamps of Florida all mixed into this movie’s pot luck of random shit that somehow comes out to a good time. I don’t want to spoil too much, but when your movie starts off with soul searching melodrama in an urban setting and ends up with a chase scene through a Floridian swamp, you know it’s a trip you want to take.

This is a movie about change and about growing into life. Graduation into a higher plane. Learning to cope and live with all the crap society throws at you – there are good times, there are bad times and there are times you just won’t know what the hell is going on. Told heartwarmingly and convincingly by a duo of Nicolas Cage clones. Aren’t all good movies?

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