review for Adaptation on AllMovie

Adaptation (2002)
by Derek Armstrong review

Critics charged with the divine headache of describing Adaptation, in all its twisted magnificence, should find it appropriate that the story concentrates on the paralysis of writer's block, brought on by the impossible urge to say everything. The sophomore collaboration between screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze is so drenched with unorthodox ideas, yet so fundamentally accessible, that it actually outdoes the groundbreaking Being John Malkovich in existential pretzel logic, while remaining digestible to a middle-brow audience. Kaufman's real-life struggles adapting Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief get brilliantly expanded into a self-reflexive narrative of sublime originality, in which screenwriter, author, and muse become intertwined, and such rich topics as artistic integrity, social awkwardness, and sibling rivalry get teased and prodded. Not only has Kaufman written himself into the proceedings, but in Nicolas Cage, he's found an exquisite choice to interpret himself and his twin brother -- an imaginary character given "real" life by receiving a screenwriting credit. Sweating, stammering, lowering his eyes, and imploding in a crisis of relevance -- then doing just the opposite as Donald -- Cage kicks his own career out of neutral, at least briefly exchanging the hunt for ever-bigger paychecks with work that truly matters. Although the stories of Orlean (Meryl Streep) and John Laroche (Chris Cooper) both carry a vital urgency, this is Kaufman's film, full of the anxieties of a kinky-haired shlub whose overactive imagination is both his meal ticket and his curse. Inasmuch as it eventually imitates the very story structure it abhors, Adaptation is the rare film that both attacks and revels in the humbling, soul-crushing yet exhilarating mechanics of Hollywood moviemaking.