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ADAPTATION (article first published : 2003-03-24)

Adaptation, for which Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper have received Oscar nominations, has an audacious original screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote the Spike Jonze masterpiece, Being John Malkovich.

Directed by Jonze, Adaptation is a loopy saga that I sometimes found overly pretentious and puzzling, but it does hold a constant fascination, performances are first-rate and one is never sure what will happen next.

Describing the plot is a hard task. Suffice it to say it flits between fact, fiction and fantasy - and constantly criss-crosses between past and present. The story deals with Cage as Kaufman - nerdy, stressed, overweight, insecure, balding, sexually frustrated and struck by writer's block.

This happens after he is approached to create a screenplay from a non-fiction best-seller, The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean (Streep) about a horticultural poacher. Kaufman finds it extremely difficult to adapt the book for the screen and, in between visiting the set of Being John Malkovich, decides to write a script dealing with him batting to write the screenplay in question.

Kaufman, who has no twin in real life, throws into this scenario a fictional twin for himself, Daniel (also played by Cage). The two, on probing the relationship between author Orlean and her subject, the intelligent and enigmatic orchid thief (Chris Cooper), then find themselves getting deeper and deeper into trouble.

An original and inventive comedy, albeit sometimes a shade too offbeat for its own good, Adaptation is a sly satire on Hollywood formula and an audacious self-parody from one of Tinsel Town's most dotty screenwriters. Alone worth seeing for Streep and Cage, it gets a rating of 7/10. Billy Suter




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