Sony Pictures 2002
Written by Charlie Kaufman and (fictional) Donald Kaufman
Directed by Spike Jonze
Kaufman and Jonze collaborated previously on the absolutely incredible movie Being John Malkovich. So how do this writer/director team manage to follow that success….
OVERALL: In my opinion this movie was not as good as Being John Malkovich but, in the opinion of the people who hand out awards for movies, it must have been better because this movie won every award out there. Hell, even Donald Kaufman shared the writing award from the Academy with Charlie and Donald doesn’t even exist except in the movie. And this movie deserved the awards.
The movie is about Kaufman himself trying to find a way to adapt a novel about Orchids into a screenplay. It’s about Kaufman’s growth as a character and it is about as post-modern as a movie can get and still make some sense. The movie changes as Kaufman’s character does and changes as different sources have input into the writing, which is what the movie is about. When Charlie’s brother, Donald, who writes in the action genre, starts making suggestions, the movie goes off in all sorts of unexplainable directions and reaches its “thrilling” conclusion.
This is an excellent movie by a truly gifted writer. Sadly, in a lot of ways, it was a less weird (more inviting) version of Chronenbeg’s Naked Lunch. I say “sadly” because I got the impression that Kaufman wanted to be very novel with this movie (he says this in the movie) and I just didn’t find it as novel as maybe I should have. On the other hand, I did find it extremely good. More so while I was watching it than in hindsight, however. In hindsight, Kaufman takes a complicated and interesting idea and basically flogs it to death as we follow Kaufman himself (played beautifully by Nicholas Cage) struggling with writing a screenplay about writing a screenplay about a book. Near the end, as the whole cutesy idea of the mirror in a mirror in a mirror reflection thing gets more clear, the uses of this mental-special-effect become more and more predictable. For example, upon being convinced that voice-overs are a weak tool used by screenwriters who can not demonstrate thought through the actions of their characters, the voice-overs which were prominent throughout the movie, disappear. And extremely cool idea but one that has lost its subtlety by the time the viewer has watched that far. The same could be said for many of the mind-fucks that appear in this multi-layered, POV-shifting masterpiece.
And it is a masterpiece. If you are one of the few left who have not seen it and you can stand a movie that is what we might call “intellectual” then you must see this movie. If you like your thinking during a movie limited to nothing more difficult than the temporal shifts in Back to the Future (I through III) then maybe this movie isn’t for you.