Excellent movies kinda sorta based on a book
Ohhhh, don’t you hate that? Whenever you see a really good flick, there’s always that onejerk who, when you’re walking out in the parking lot, talking about what you really liked about the flick, and right before you hit the little *brp* *brp* to unlock the car, drops that line, and Grrrrr—you just want to punch him in his stupid neck.
So to everyone who’s done that, I give you this—the first in a series of articles on book-to-movie adaptations that are not only excellent movies, but also go pretty far beyond the book, coming up with new material while staying faithful to the themes and general thrust of their source.
First up is the 2002 Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze film Adaptation.:
Based on: The Orchid Thief
Trying to describe this movie is like petting a raccoon: You could get rabies. It’s also extremely difficult to do and largely pointless. Those who’ve seen it know what I’m talking about and know why it’s at the top of the list. Those who haven’t, well, see it. Not only is it the most accessible Charlie Kaufman flick, it’s also one of those films that reminds us why we keep Nicholas Cage around.
Okay, so why is it a meta-daptation? It becomes pretty clear in the summary: The A plot centers around screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s attempt to adapt Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. It’s not long before he realizes that much of the book is spent describing the nature and history of orchids and not enough describes the story of orchid thief John Laroche. In the meantime, Kaufman’s mooching brother Donald, after failing countless times at even more countless get-rich-quick schemes, decides to become a screenwriter like his brother, and, true to form, his screenplay for a psycho-sex-thriller-mystery reads more like a definitive list of clichés—when it sells for $1,000,000, writer’s-blocked Charlie somehow sinks lower.
The B plot is the story of Laroche and Orlean’s relationship, which covers everything that occurs in The Orchid Thief, some stuff that probably really happened, and then some stuff that really, really didn’t happen.
And, of course, the stories overlap—Charlie falls in love with Susan and arranges a meeting under the guise of discussing the book and the brothers head down to Florida for a dramatic, cliché-ridden…well, yeah.
What makes it a great movie is how ballsy Kaufman gets with real people—Susan Orlean, John Laroche, (and to a lesser extent) Robert McKee are all real people –putting them in situations that are pretty damn damning slander. If you check out Orlean’swebsite, she seems pretty cool with the whole thing (though, to steal a thought from Roger Ebert, all the real people mentioned probably signed a waiver).
And Kaufman doesn’t cheat. For each bizarre twist, he has a callback—when Robert McKee tells him never to use voiceover, and, in the last shot, he does, it’s a delightful joke for those who pay attention.
On par with Cage’s dual performances is Chris Cooper’s Oscar-winning role as orchid thief John Laroche. The always-beautiful, always-talented Meryl Streep plays Orchid Thief author Susan Orlean, and this generation’s Harry Dean Stanten/M. Emmet Walsh, Brian Cox, plays screenwriting coach Robert McKee. (He was also McKee’s personal choice to play himself.)
Frothygirlz rating 10/10