So let me try and get this story straight. The real story goes that Charlie Kaufman was hired to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief while Being John Malkovich was being filmed. Susan Orlean originally wrote a brief article about a bizarre and eccentric orchid collector called John Laroche (Chris Cooper) who was arrested while poaching orchids. While Susan was doing research for her article, she came to experience true passion for the first time in her life, which led to Susan extrapolating her article into a book called The Orchid Thief.
Charlie Kaufman was supposed to write a traditional screenplay that would follow Susan Orlean's book, only to find out that The Orchid Thief had no real conventional story or plot, it was fluff. As Charlie Kaufman struggled to find a way to make a decent movie out of this book, he found himself inserting himself into the screenplay, recounting his struggles of adapting this book, while also telling the story of Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) and John Laroche, thus turning his adaptation of The Orchid Thief into a piece of meta-fiction.
As for the movie itself, Charlie Kaufman divided himself into two separate characters. The first was the prodigal yet neurotic writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), and the second was his easygoing and aimless brother Donald Kaufman (Nicolas Cage). Donald admires his brother Charlie and decides that he wants to be a writer just like him, and he does, and he's successful too, but Charlie doesn't respect his writing, he considers it too lowbrow and too Hollywood for him. When Charlie is well and truly stumped on The Orchid Thief, he reluctantly accepts Donald's offer to help, who's now become a successful writer himself. Donald suggests that they need to follow Susan and John and soon find themselves getting caught up in all the traditional tropes of Hollywood screenwriting.
So Adaptation is working on multiple levels, the blending of fiction and non-fiction is really quite genius and effective, it blends together seamlessly. The dichotomy between brothers was purposeful, one's the tortured genius (Charlie), while the other's incomprehensibly successful (Donald). Charlie represents the art of screenwriting, the creative spirit that goes into making a thought provoking story, while Donald represents what's generally expected of screenwriters ie sex, guns and violence, mindless entertainment. Adaptation is extremely nonlinear, it jumps around and changes focus a lot, it's quite erratic and can be hard to follow if you don't have a bit of an idea of how this movie came about. I'm actually even surprised that the movie got made in the first place, Susan and John were definitely brave to let them make this movie as it's not always especially flattering for them.
If you can wrap your head around the premise and circumstances surrounding Adaptation, it's actually a very enjoyable movie, I think even more so if you're a writer. There's a lot of strong acting as well, Nicolas Cage is incredible, Meryl Streep is very telling, but Chris Cooper outshines them all with a mesmerizing performance. There was some really profound and meaningful dialogue in Adaptation too, Charlie Kaufman in particular and his inner monologue are hilarious, especially if you can relate to him on some level, and Robert McKee (Brian Cox) left an impression on me as well in his small role.
The name Adaptation has dual meanings here, it's obviously an exploration of the screenwriting process. Charlie wanted to avoid all the Hollywood cliches in his adaptation, but when Charlie started collaborating with Donald, well, Donald was a bit more... typical, and when Donald got involved, things got a lot more... Hollywood. Charlie's adaptation was forced to adapt, much like the flowers in the movie were, it all starts getting extremely meta. Like all of Charlie Kaufman's movies, they're not for everyone, but I enjoyed Adaptation and it reminded me that Nicolas Cage is a genuinely good actor who always gives his best, and that we should all give him a break already. Adaptation is bizarre, surreal and oddly compelling viewing. It's definitely a trip.
Written by - The Sentry - 22/04/2015