My Buddy is a Cage – Adaptation. (2002)

Before we begin, credit goes to the girlfriend who stumbled across this gem earlier this week:
Writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) — an unfortunate mixture of self-loathing and hesitation — struggles to adapt The Orchid Thief into his next screenplay and hopes to cure his writer’s block with a meandering, voyeurisitc investigation of the book’s author, Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep).  With the help of his twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage!), Charlie discovers Orlean has become romantically involved her book’s subject matter, the toothless, often delusional orchid hunter John LaRoche (Chris Cooper).  Frustration escalates, lives are changed, and everything somehow fits in to the greater arc of the planet’s larger eco-history.  It’s very Terrence Malick.

I’ve always found Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays — that’s the real person, mind you — to be overwhelmingly rich and dauntingly dense.  Part of that stems from his obsession with the “meta” realm of cinema; watch his directorial debut, Synecdoche, NY if you want to see what I mean.  But Kaufman’s screenplays also boil over with dialogue, for there are moments in Adaptation that play out like an unfiltered Adderrall binge at a Friday night pub.  The incessant jawing is unrestrained but still directed, like a lawn mower you can steer but never hope to shut off.  And it all feels appropriate, because Charlie — at least the filmic iteration of Charlie — has a cluttered mind.

Cage’s double portrayal of Charlie and Donald plays out like a facsimile of Tweedles Dee and Dum, albeit one that’s often more pathetic than comical.  Take the following scene where Charlie experiences a flourish of inspiration only to have his spirits dashed when a giddy Donald arrives home from a screenwriting seminar:

“My genre’s thriller, what’s yours?”  It’s easy to take jabs at something like Season of the Witch, but Adaptation is a different kind of beast.  In part, it’s a story about injecting falsity into truth, since many of these characters are versions of real people.  If, to quote Streep’s Susan Orlean, “change is a choice,” Kaufman seems to be acknowledging that fictionalizing very non-fictional subject matter is a part of the screenwriting process he chose to make.  After all, what kind of a writer inserts himself into his own screenplay?  Probably the same kind who puts his own transgressions on trial via Florida swamp chase.

In adding to our digital cult of personality, iMDb claims that Cage resisted everything he knew about acting in portraying Charlie and Donald Kaufman.  And he earned an Academy Award nomination for it.

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Want more Cage? You got it.


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