Fighting words from possibly fictional Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage, looking like what Jonah Hill might look like in 20 years) to fictional Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) in “Adaptation.” Those words are more effective than anything Kevin Kline ever says “Sophie’s Choice,” because Charlie’s coming from pain, from a connection and a relationship finally consummated in its own strange way with a woman he’s never physically met until this time. In that scene, both lose important men in their lives. Charlie loses his fictional brother Donald (Nicholas Cage) in an out-of-nowhere car crash, while Susan loses John Laroche (Chris Cooper) to a croc. Their confrontation is both hilarious and sad. The two deceased characters have been Charlie and Susan’s crutches, alter egos, dumber, more oblivious versions of themselves with delusions of grandeur. Charlie unlearns the Susan who’s been both myth and sexual fantasy and sees her just like him, a writer stuck after letting go of an obsession. And now that that part of them is gone, they can fictionalize this part of their lives and move of to other projects.
I also think this is the first movie I’ve seen where Tilda Swinton looks normal. She’s always been a beauty from another world, but as Valerie Thomas in a light sweater she refreshingly looks more conventionally pretty. There’s also the warmth in her, that as much as Charlie’s repulsed by himself, beautiful women don’t just tolerate but actually accommodate him. Her ‘breathing down his agent’s neck’ only happens off screen.
I kinda wanna talk about Amelia (Cara Seymour) and Donald’s girlfriend Caroline (Maggie Gyllenhaal) too. These two women, as well as Valerie and her doppelganger Alice the Waitress (Judy Greer) don’t seem to be repulsed by Charlie, but that’s only because the romantic barrier hasn’t been broken. That only gets broken with Alice, who isn’t as accommodating by then.
I’m not sure if I totally love the movie, but it’s not as jolting in its surrealism as “Eternal Sunshine” or “Synecdoche,” as much as I like those movies. A part of it is probably due to listening to the characters’ voices or seeing what cars they drive before actually seeing them. The characters here are humans instead of aesthetic elements filling up the mise-en-scene.
FACT! Meryl Streep’s other movie in 2002, “The Hours,” partners her with Alison Janney, the latter coincidentally plays Chris Cooper’s wife in “American Beauty” three years before. Sluts.
FACT! Meryl Streep stoned and her calling people fat are longer traditions than previously thought.
FACT! Nicholas Cage was once good.