I live in a relatively small, inconspicuous ranch style house. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely, small inconspicuous ranch style house that I’m very thankful for. It’s quite comfortable and–although the kitchen is smaller than I would like–I have no desire to move.
My home’s signature design feature is its wide open living room with vaulted ceiling; that and a especially large master bedroom that we use as an office. So, yeah, there are those things…and our yard.
In fact, I would say that our yard–the backyard in particular–is the loveliest thing about our home. That’s because my husband has a fondness for flowers and a green thumb to go along with that fondness. It’s his hobby.
People take pictures of our yard. People that we don’t even know. (We also have security cameras. So…)
Anyway, despite my husband’s talented thumb, we’ve never had any luck with orchids. Every orchid we’ve ever had (five of them to be exact) has died. And that sucks.
Orchids are expensive. Even the ones you get at Home Depot.
The film Adaption is about orchids. It’s also about compulsion. And obsession. Lack of confidence. The attraction of opposites. Illegal drug manufacturing. Screenwriting. Filmmaking. Writer’s block and…Whew!
Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention twins. It’s about twins. So, yeah, back to Whew! And I’m just getting started.
Charlie Kaufman is a screenwriter. For real. He wrote the screenplay to Spike Jonez’s acclaimed 1999 film Being John Malkovich and to Michel Gondry’s 2004 comedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He also directed the much lauded Synecdoche, New York.
Charlie Kaufman is also the protagonist (portrayed by Nicolas Cage) in his own screenplay Adaption. Confused? I’m just getting started.
The movie begins with Charlie, fresh off his success with Being John Malkovich, embroiled in the funk of…well, being Charlie Kaufman. Despite his obvious talent and intellect–or maybe because of it–Charlie has zero self-esteem. Compulsively analytical, he is pleased with nothing, and upset with everything.
But don’t misunderstand–he isn’t misanthropic. He longs for the companionship of a woman, for the sexual bond, to engage in the give and take of a relationship, but because he thinks of himself so hideously–he is paunchy, he slumps and his hair, what is left of it, is frizzy–he can’t imagine anyone of the female persuasion being attracted to him even though his smart and pretty friend Amelia (Cara Seymour) is clearly just that. She finds the disheveled writer fascinating and charming; she practically throws herself at him, albeit in a very ladylike way. He is oblivious to it.
Commissioned to write the screenplay adaption to writer Susan Orlean’s best selling non-fiction book about Florida orchid poacher John Laroche, (again, Laroche and Orlean are real people) Charlie suffers a debilitating case of writer’s block–in the movie and in real life.
In real life, try as he might, Kaufman could not figure out how to make a commercially successful and artistically viable adaption of Orlean’s book. So he wrote the screenplay Adaption inspired by his writer’s block instead. He used Orlean and Laroche as characters in the screenplay and wrote in appearances by actors John Malkovich, Catherine Keener and John Cusack who had starred in Being John Malkovich. To that stew he added real life screenwriting guru Robert McKee as a character and fictional twin brother, Donald Kaufman.
Johnathan Demme was slated to direct The Orchid Thief but bowed out of the project. His production partner Ed Saxon stayed on board as the producer and Spike Jonez agreed to team up with Kaufman again and direct. Likewise Susan Orlean and John Laroche agreed to Kaufman’s extreme embellishment of their biographies and, alas, Adaption was born.
In the movie, Charlie is none too happy that his congenial, happy-go-lucky twin brother Donald (also portrayed by Nicolas Cage, magnificently I might add) has moved in with him. Donald is paunchy too, and he has the same frizzy, thinning hair, but unlike Charlie, he is completely comfortable in his own skin so he dresses better, takes better care of himself, is friendlier and, consequently, has way better luck with the ladies. This baffles Charlie.
On top of that, Donald decides that he too wants to be a screenwriter and that pisses Charlie off. Donald is like Charlie’s irritating little brother who wants to copy everything big brother does only, of course, they are twins and Charlie can’t figure out why Donald likes him or why he likes himself, for that matter. Plus, Donald wants to churn out a cookie cutter thriller screenplay and “cash in on it”. To that end he buys some of Robert McKee’s ‘how to write a screenplay’ DVDs and signs up for his seminars. He suggests his brother check out the DVDs to help his writer’s block. This disgusts Charlie to no end.
Meanwhile, Charlie immerses himself in the book he is supposed to adapt, The Orchid Thief. True to his tendencies, he becomes obsessed with the book’s author, Susan Orlean (gloriously portrayed by Meryl Streep). He convinces himself that if he could just meet her, his writer’s block would break.
To this gorgeous, convoluted mashup Kaufman adds a parallel story–actually more of a faux documentary–about Orlean and “the orchid thief” himself, John Laroche (Chris Cooper in an Academy Award winning performance).
In real life John Laroche is a tall, elegant horticulturist who managed to poach/pilfer an extremely rare and elusive species of orchid from a nature preserve in the Florida Everglades. In Adaption, he is a sweaty, scraggly, toothless (he is only missing his two front teeth, but you get the picture) swashbuckling, near vagrant, self taught horticulturist tooling around in a rickety cargo van who manages to poach/pilfer an extremely rare and elusive species of orchid…Whew! You get the picture.
In the movie, Orlean becomes enamored with Laroche’s passion and intoxicated by his curious sexual potency. They begin a passionate affair that is enhanced by a drug, illegally extracted from the orchids by Laroche and his Seminole Indian confederates.
Charlie and Donald become aware of this drug conspiracy because they have been following Orlean, ostensibly for research, and in reality because of Charlie’s compulsive infatuation. This knowledge puts the twins in the crosshairs of the clandestine lovers who are desperate and willing to do anything–yes, even commit murder–to keep their passion alive.
Adaption is the most original, creative film I have ever seen. For years I avoided it. I didn’t think I would like it. Too convoluted. Too gimmicky. Too cute, I thought. Then I saw it. And I was right. It is everything I thought it would be. And it is wonderful. It very well may replace Magnolia as my tenth favorite movie of all time.
And that’s high praise from me. I love Magnolia almost as much as I love my cat Stryper–and I think magnolias are much more beautiful than orchids.