In ADAPTATION, the audience views sequences from alternating storylines, one from the present and one 3-years past, until both converge at the film's conclusion.
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.