In the "past", New York journalist Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) is researching a story, eventually to become the book "The Orchid Thief", about John Laroche (Chris Cooper), whose passion is collecting endangered species of orchids to serve as nursery stock. Actually, he poaches them from protected nature preserves in the south Florida swamps. But, since he has Native Americans indigenous to the region doing the picking, his operation is legally untouchable under an arcane interpretation of the law.
In the "present", Nicolas Cage plays the dual roles of Charlie Kaufman and his identical twin Donald. Charlie is the accomplished screenwriter adapting "The Orchid Thief" to the Silver Screen. Donald also wants to be a screenwriter, and is in the process of authoring his first script. Charlie is handicapped by a severe lack of self esteem, which is exacerbated by his inability to find the muse for his current assignment as well a his failure to establish a relationship with a woman. It doesn't help that he shares a roof with Donald, his complete opposite. Donald is self-assured, successful with the ladies, and positively gushing with creative juices as he writes his initial screenplay.
Without the use of any special make-up tricks, each of the Kaufman twins is instantly recognizable by the viewer. Cage manages this differentiation with an acting performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. Charlie's gloom is consistently marked by the downturned corners of his mouth and a general hangdog look. He's Major Downer personified. On the other hand, Donald's optimistic ebullience is signaled by the upturned corners of his mouth and the twinkle in his eyes. Obviously there's more to it than this - you have to see it.
Cooper is wonderful as the Southern cracker stereotype - ball-capped, toothless, long-haired and street smart - whose life has been a sequential series of passionate obsessions. Streep is (initially) enigmatic as Orlean, whose sterile marriage and professional life has her desperately seeking passion of any sort. At the film's conclusion, when all four personalities collide in the Florida swamps, passion erupts to heights hitherto undreamed of by the characters or the audience.
ADAPTATION is undeniably clever, since its perspective comes from the screenwriter (Charlie) whose painfully evolving screenplay becomes the movie you're watching. I liked that. However, the two storylines seemed excessively contrived and joined to make a point. And what is the point? According to Sony Pictures, the film's theme is the passion that each of us longs for in life. Or perhaps it's indicated by something Donald says late in the movie, "You are what you love, not what loves you." To me, these are such obvious attributes of life and living as to comprise an unnecessary dedication of two hours of run time.
I walked out of the theater admiring this film, especially Cage's performance(s), more than being swept away by it. A film about discovering passion left me curiously unswept.
The movie is about Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter who has agreed to adapt the book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean into a screenplay. He wants to make a movie that is true to itself and that isn't filled with sex, drugs, car chases, murder, and so on. However, he is having a lot of trouble trying to make it work for a screenplay and is experiencing some serious writer's block. It eventually gets to the point where the script he is writing is no longer about the book "The Orchid Thief," but is now about him trying to adapt the book into a movie and what has transpired to get himself there. That is ONLY a fraction of the movie. The rest I will not divulge because there are a lot of subtle surprises and twists.
I was in absolute awe when the ending credits started to roll. I wanted to applaud, I wanted to yell, and I wanted to shout. My mouth was on the floor by the time it was all said and done, and it stayed in my head for the rest of the night. This is a superb movie that toyed with all of us from start to finish. And what was great was that half of the audience did not like it because they didn't "get it." For once, I "got it" and nobody else in that theatre did. It's usually the opposite with me, which was why I was so amazed. The subtleness and the cleverness that prevailed in this film was really a sight to see.
Everything was there. The film was amazingly acted out. Nicholas Cage is triumphant as he plays both Charles and Donald Kaufman. He does such a great job that you forget it's the same actor. Meryl Streep is triumphant as Susan Orlean. And who can forget the wonderful Chris Cooper who played John Laroche; the orchid collector with no front teeth. He's a fabulous actor and this, and in my opinion this is one of his best roles ever. The film was so cleverly written and directed. I could go on and on, but it wouldn't mean much if I tell you it all. Better to see it in person.
"Adaptation" is a wildly creative and original film that really reminds us why we go see movies in the first place. It also reminds us that good movies are still being made. This is one not everyone is going to like, and it is absolutely crucial that you pay attention to every little detail you encounter when watching it. The jokes and humor are there, but you must uncover them in their subtleness. This is a spectacular film on every front. Truly amazing.