Review of “Adaptation”, Limerick Event Guide 2003

In early 2003 I lived and worked in Limerick, a much maligned city that I remain very fond of. I contributed to a local magazine with the self explanatory name the Limerick Event Guide. I mainly (I think only) wrote movie reviews for it. I wonder what happened to it. I am unsure how this text got preserved, I had a copy on a prior attempt at a similar blog to this (text  here ) and don’t recall where I got this text from. I reviewed a good few films for it – the Transporter , Punch Drunk Love and various others.

I have written more about film that I initially thought. The same goes for sport.

Once I was trying to write a short story and was stuck. The old advice to budding writers “write about what you know” came to mind, and what I knew about at the time was a budding writer trying to think of an idea for a story. So I began to write a story about a budding writer who was stuck and began to write a story about a budding writer who was stuck and began to write about … you get the picture. There were various other twists, by the way, if that summary sounded exceptionally boring (you don’t think I’m going to reveal them here, do you?). But I abandoned the story, because of the ridiculous belief that fiction should be about Emotions and Great Themes and The Famine and Difficulties With Girls.

Adaptation is the best film of the year so far and made me wish I stuck with my story. It is manages to be intricate and amazingly clever but also, through not even trying, moving and emotionally true. It begins on the set of Being John Malkovich with a (real) out-take of Malkovich ordering the crew to cut the dead time between takes. The camera follows various real-life figures from the Being John Malkovich set, finally focussing on “Charlie Kaufmann”, the screenwriter (he really was) who is played by Nicholas Cage. The Charlie of Adaptation is a neurotic bag of self-loathing and doubt, hired to adapt New Yorker writer Susan Orlean’s elegiac, and apparently action-free, tale of orchid obsession The Orchid Thief. Charlie’s happy-go-lucky/annoying (delete according to taste) twin brother Donald (also played, naturally, by Cage, with a winning sweetness in my opinion) decides to become a screenwriter too and becomes a devotee of a screenwriting guru, much to Charlie’s initial disdain.

I don’t want to give away anymore of the plot, as much of the joy of the film lies in the brilliant way it perfectly predicts itself and contains itself, the way the Adaptation of the title refers not only to adapting a book into a film but to Darwinian natural selection, to personal change, and most dizzyingly of all to the film itself. Reality and the world of the film merge confusingly; for example the screenwriting credit goes to “Charlie and Donald Kaufmann, adapted from the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean”. Characters within the film talk about their portrayal in the script and constantly wonder who will play themselves. Oddly, despite its cleverness the structure of the film is actually quite linear, aside from flashbacks that are more traditional than they seem. And for all its avant garde, mess-with-your-head aspects, Adaptation gives the same kinetic rush of joy as Singin’ in the Rain and Bringing Up Baby. It manages to be hip and vastly thought-provoking while “having a heart” in the most unsentimental and least manipulative way possible. In the last issue I wrote about a film I hated, Punch Drunk Love, and now its my pleasure to write about one I adored. In both cases, in the end one has to stop writing and lay it on the line: see this film now, five times at least.

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