October 15, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Adaptation.

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)


Today's movie: Adaptation., 2002 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this multiple award winner from Spike Jonze has an immensely good reputation, with many considering it one of the best scripts ever written: loosely autobiographical but with a lot of liberties deliberately taken, it's the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's difficulties in adapting Susan Orlean's heady journalistic book The Orchid Thief into a mainstream Hollywood actioner, the two storylines entwining more and more until reaching an absurdist fever-dream pitch by the end.

The reality: Wow. Well, the hype is justified, at least -- this is without a doubt one of the smartest screenplays I've ever seen, a "metastory" (i.e. a story about a writer writing a story about a writer writing a story) that instead of the masturbatory postmodern mess such scripts usually are is actually delightfully intelligent and engaging. And even more astounding, Kaufman makes it so by deliberately breaking just about every "rule" regarding screenwriting that's ever been made; he fairly broadcasts at the beginning what will be happening by the end, includes tons of disembodied voiceovers, makes the entire thing deliberately hard to follow, and even adds such ridiculous touches as a fake twin brother, the "anti-Charlie" who over the course of the film writes the hackiest Hollywood crap-script ever seen and becomes a huge success because of it. It's not the kind of movie that screenwriting students should exactly study, because it's the kind of brilliant weirdness that can only be pulled off once; and incidentally, it's an almost perfect kind of project for the hyperactive Jonze to tackle, because all he really needs to do is throw in a few visual pyrotechnics and then otherwise stay out of this astounding script's way, versus the trouble he always gets into when adding too much visual zaniness to a weak script (see for example his newest, the dour "kiddie art film" Where the Wild Things Are, already racking up dismal reviews before even being released yet to the public). It's the kind of movie that by all rights shouldn't work at all, yet somehow gloriously does, and it comes highly recommended today.

Strangest piece of trivia: The fictional brother Donald seen in the film was officially listed as the screenplay's co-writer; he received a very real Golden Globe and Oscar nomination as a result, and even has his own bio page in the DVD's filmography section.

Worth your time? Yes

P.S. I would love to know how the real Susan Orlean felt about being turned into a gun-toting, drug-snorting sex maniac in the deliberately over-the-top third act of this movie; if anyone knows of an online interview where she directly addresses the subject, please do leave the URL in a comment below.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 6:07 PM, October 15, 2009. Filed under: