Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Spike Jonze|
|Screenplay by||Charlie Kaufman |
|Based on||The Orchid Thief|
by Susan Orlean
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Edited by||Eric Zumbrunnen|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$32.8 million|
Adaptation is a 2002 American comedy-drama film directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. It stars Nicolas Cage as Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald, Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean, and Chris Cooper as John Laroche, with Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in supporting roles.
Adaptation is based both on Orlean's 1998 nonfiction book The Orchid Thief and Kaufman's experience attempting to adapt the book into a screenplay while suffering from writer's block. It also adds fictitious elements, including Kaufman's twin brother (also credited as a writer for the film) and a romance between Orlean and Laroche, and culminates in completely invented events including fictional versions of Orlean and Laroche three years after the events related in The Orchid Thief.
Adaptation was praised for its direction, screenplay, humor, and the performances of Cage, Cooper and Streep. It received awards at the 75th Academy Awards, 60th Golden Globe Awards, and 56th British Academy Film Awards, with Cooper winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Kaufman winning the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. A British Film Institute poll ranked it one of the thirty best films of the 2000s.
Self-loathing screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is hired to write the screenplay adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. He struggles with anxiety, social phobia, depression, and low self-esteem. His twin brother, Donald, has moved into his house and is freeloading there. Donald decides to become a screenwriter like Charlie and attends seminars by screenwriting mogul Robert McKee.
Charlie, who rejects formulaic scriptwriting, wants to ensure that his script is a faithful adaptation of The Orchid Thief but comes to feel that the book does not have a usable narrative and is impossible to turn into a film, which leaves him with a serious case of writer's block. Already well past his deadline with Columbia Pictures and despairing of writing his script with self-reference, Charlie travels to New York City to discuss the screenplay with Orlean directly. Too shy and socially awkward to speak with her upon arriving at her office and after he received the surprising news that Donald's spec script for a cliché psychological thriller, The 3, is selling for six or seven figures, Charlie resorts to attending McKee's seminar in New York and asks him for advice. Charlie ends up asking Donald to join him in New York to assist with the story structure.
Donald, who is confident socially, pretends to be Charlie and interviews Orlean but finds her responses suspicious. He and Charlie follow Orlean to Florida, where she meets John Laroche, the orchid-stealing protagonist of her book and her secret lover. It is revealed that the Seminole wanted the ghost orchid to manufacture a mind-altering drug that causes fascination. Laroche introduces the drug to Orlean. After Laroche and Orlean catch Charlie observing them taking the drug and having sex, Orlean decides that Charlie must be killed to prevent him from exposing her adultery and drug use.
Orlean forces Charlie to drive to the swamp at gunpoint, intending to kill him. Charlie and Donald escape and hide in the swamp, where they resolve their differences. Laroche accidentally shoots Donald. Charlie and Donald drive off but collide head-on with a ranger's truck. Donald is ejected through the windshield and dies moments later, but Charlie is saved by the airbag and runs into the swamp to hide. There he is spotted by Laroche, who is killed by an alligator before he can kill Charlie.
Orlean is arrested. Charlie reconciles with his mother as he calls to inform her of Donald's death. He later tells his former love interest, Amelia, that he loves her. She responds that she loves him too. Charlie finishes the script, which ends with him announcing in a voice-over that the script is finished and that for the first time, he is filled with hope.
- Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman / Donald Kaufman
- Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean
- Chris Cooper as John Laroche
- Cara Seymour as Amelia Kavan
- Brian Cox as Robert McKee
- Tilda Swinton as Valerie Thomas
- Ron Livingston as Marty Bowen
- Maggie Gyllenhaal as Caroline Cunningham
- Judy Greer as Alice
- Bob Yerkes as Charles Darwin
- Jim Beaver as Ranger Tony
- Litefoot as Russell
- Jay Tavare as Matthew Osceola
- Doug Jones as Augustus Margary
- Peter Jason as Defense Attorney
Streep expressed strong interest in the role of Susan Orlean before being cast, and took a salary cut in recognition of the film's budget. John Turturro was approached to portray John Laroche. Cooper strongly considered turning down Laroche, but accepted it after his wife urged him to. Albert Finney, Christopher Plummer, Terence Stamp and Michael Caine were considered for the role of Robert McKee, but McKee personally suggested Brian Cox to filmmakers.
Litefoot and Jay Tavare have small roles as Seminole. John Cusack, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Lance Acord and Spike Jonze have uncredited cameos as themselves in scenes where Charlie Kaufman is on the set of Being John Malkovich, which he also wrote. Additional cameos include Doug Jones as explorer Augustus Margary, director Curtis Hanson as Orlean's husband, and David O. Russell as a New Yorker journalist.
—Charlie Kaufman on writing the script
The idea to do a film adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief dates back to 1994. Fox 2000 purchased the film rights in 1997, eventually selling them to Jonathan Demme, who set the project at Columbia Pictures. Charlie Kaufman was hired to write the script, but struggled with the adaptation and writer's block. Kaufman eventually created a script of his experience in adaptation, exaggerating events and creating a fictional twin brother. He put Donald Kaufman's name on the script and dedicated the film to him. By September 1999, Kaufman had written two drafts of the script; he turned in a third draft in November 2000.
Kaufman has said,
The idea of how to write the film didn't come to me until quite late. It was the only idea I had, I liked it, and I knew there was no way it would be approved if I pitched it. So I just wrote it and never told the people I was writing it for. I only told Spike Jonze, as we were making Being John Malkovich and he saw how frustrated I was. Had he said I was crazy, I don't know what I would have done.
He has also said, "I really thought I was ending my career by turning that in!"
Adaptation went on fast track in April 2000, with Kaufman making some revisions. Scott Brake of IGN gave the script a positive review in June 2000, as did Drew McWeeny of Ain't It Cool News in October. Columbia Pictures committed to North America distribution only after Intermedia came aboard to finance the film in exchange for international distribution rights. Filming started in late March 2001 in Los Angeles and finished by June. The "evolution" fantasy sequence was created by Digital Domain, while Skywalker Sound handled audio post production services. The makeup effects (the Nicolas Cage double, Chris Cooper's teeth, and the alligator attack) are by makeup effects designer Tony Gardner and his effects company Alterian, Inc.
Columbia Pictures at one point announced a late 2001 theatrical release date, but Adaptation opened on December 6, 2002, in the United States for a limited release. The film was released nationwide on February 14, 2003, earning $1,130,480 in its opening weekend in 672 theaters. It went on to gross $22.5 million in North America and $10.3 million in foreign countries, for a total of $32.8 million.
Adaptation was released on DVD and VHS by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment in May 2003.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 91% based on 210 reviews, with an average rating of 8.17/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Dizzyingly original, the loopy, multi-layered Adaptation is both funny and thought-provoking." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 83 out of 100, based on 40 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, writing that it "leaves you breathless with curiosity, as it teases itself with the directions it might take. To watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation." He later added the film to his "Great Movies" collection. At the end of 2009, Ebert named the film one of the best of the decade. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also gave the film a four-star rating, writing, "Screenwriting this smart, inventive, passionate and rip-roaringly funny is a rare species. So all praise to Charlie Kaufman, working with director Spike Jonze to create the most original and outrageous film comedy since the two first teamed on Being John Malkovich, in 1999." Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe wrote, "This is epic, funny, tragic, demanding, strange, original, boldly sincere filmmaking. And the climax, the portion that either sinks the entire movie or self-critically explains how so many others derail, is bananas." David Ansen of Newsweek wrote that Meryl Streep had not "been this much fun to watch in years", while Mike Clark of USA Today gave a largely negative review, mainly criticizing the ending: "Too smart to ignore but a little too smugly superior to like, this could be a movie that ends up slapping its target audience in the face by shooting itself in the foot."
|Academy Awards||Best Adapted Screenplay||Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Nicolas Cage||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Chris Cooper||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Meryl Streep||Nominated|
|British Academy Film Awards||Best Adapted Screenplay||Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman||Won|
|Best Actor||Nicolas Cage||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Chris Cooper||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Meryl Streep||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy||Nominated|
|Best Director||Spike Jonze||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman||Nominated|
|Best Actor – Musical or Comedy||Nicolas Cage||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Chris Cooper||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Meryl Streep||Won|
|Visual Effects Society||Best Performance by an Actor in an Effects Film||Nicolas Cage||Nominated|
|Belgian Film Critics Association||Grand Prix||Nominated|
Response from Susan Orlean
Having been submitted the screenplay for approval, Susan Orlean was strongly opposed to the making of the film; she ended up reluctantly approving its production, and was ultimately very impressed with the final result. In 2012, she said, "[reading the screenplay] was a complete shock. My first reaction was 'Absolutely not!' They had to get my permission and I just said: 'No! Are you kidding? This is going to ruin my career!' Very wisely, they didn't really pressure me. They told me that everybody else had agreed and I somehow got emboldened. It was certainly scary to see the movie for the first time. It took a while for me to get over the idea that I had been insane to agree to it, but I love the movie now."
Orlean called Streep's portrayal of her "one of my favorite performances by her" and appreciated that her version of the character was based not on the real Orlean but on how Streep imagined Orlean based on The Orchid Thief. Despite the film's fictional parts, Orlean praised its fidelity to the book's spirit: "What I admire the most is that it's very true to the book's themes of life and obsession, and there are also insights into things which are much more subtle in the book about longing, and about disappointment."
- Identity (2003), a film starring John Cusack containing plot elements similar to The 3, the fictional script by Donald Kaufman's character.
- Three (2006), a film (based on Ted Dekker's eponymous novel), that bears a distinct resemblance to the plot of The 3, the fictional script by Donald Kaufman's character.
- List of films featuring fictional films
- Levinson, Julie (Spring 2007). "Adaptation, Metafiction, Self-Creation". Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture. 40: 1.
- McKee, Robert (1997). Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting.
- Orlean, Susan (1998). The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession.
- Kaufman is credited as "Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman", despite Donald being a fictional character created for the film.
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