Adaptation: Ben Kaller
EW Staff
August 19, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Adaptation

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
112 minutes
Limited Release Date
12/06/02
performer
Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, John Cusack, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Curtis Hanson, Catherine Keener, Rheagan Wallace
director
Spike Jonze
distributor
Columbia Pictures
author
Charlie Kaufman

We gave it an A-

Asking Jonze for a snappy summary of his latest film isn?t exactly fair — especially when you consider it was penned by surrealist screenwriter Kaufman (”Human Nature”). Here?s the best he can do: ”It?s about this uneducated Florida orchid collector who describes himself as the smartest man he knows, a New Yorker journalist writing a book about him, and a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, who is struggling to try and adapt this nonfiction book and ends up writing himself into the screenplay.”

Freaky? Sure. But the previous Jonze-Kaufman collaboration — the much-ballyhooed and equally hard-to-describe ”Being John Malkovich” — won them each an Oscar nomination and immeasurable cred in Hollywood. So when Kaufman brought Jonze his latest script, based on the writer?s own real-life struggle to adapt journalist Susan Orlean?s best-selling book ”The Orchid Thief,” the director hopped on board. In short order they cast Cooper as the boorish orchid collector, Streep as Orlean, and Cage (Jonze?s cousin by marriage) as Kaufman. And that?s all she wrote, right? Uh, not so fast. ”Oh, right! I forgot this,” says the 32-year-old director. ”The fourth character in the movie is Charlie?s twin brother, Donald Kaufman, also played by Cage, who is living out in L.A. sleeping on Charlie?s floor when he decides he wants to be a screenwriter as well. And everything that is difficult for Charlie is relatively easy and painless for Donald, which only infuriates Charlie even more.”

Okay, so we?ll cop to being a little confused. But Streep, for one, swears she gets it all. ”I thought it was one of the best screenplays I had ever read in my life, and I couldn?t believe that they wanted me,” says the actress. ”I kept calling them and saying, ?Are you sure you don?t want somebody cuter and younger?? [Spike] was very impressive. People who have been directors for 20 years aren?t anywhere near this good, but he makes it look like skateboarding.” Even if he makes it sound like rocket science.

THE LOWDOWN How can you not be curious?

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