Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Doug Jones
Director: Spike Jonze
“A lovelorn screenwriter becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt ‘The Orchid Thief’ by Susan Orlean for the screen.”(IMDb)
What to Expect
Nicolas Cage acting against Nicolas Cage
A movie about flowers
Why You Should Watch It
Charlie Kaufman had trouble adapting a book about orchids into a compelling movie, so he wrote a screenplay about Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt a book about orchids into a compelling movie. That alone was cause enough for me to want to see this, and I found myself impressed not only with Cage’s performance, but also Kaufman’s vulnerability in choosing to write himself as the main character. We see Cage grappling with social awkwardness, loneliness, some intense writer’s block, and a healthy dose of imposter syndrome – traits no one would want writ large about themselves. Yet Kaufman does it and…it’s compelling.
Rainy Day Flick (C)
The Orchid Thief is a real book by real-life journalist Susan Orlean, and Charlie Kaufman was likely just as insecure about his writing chops at the time of penning this meta screenplay as Cage portrays onscreen. He was one of the writers of a cancelled TV show and fresh off the heels of a movie that didn’t quite live up to the Oscar-nominated level of his first big-screen film. Choosing to put himself in the movie reads more like my modern art final essay thrown together at the last minute than an intelligently crafted indie storyline (hey, I didn’t go into this paper thinking I’d center it around my own made-up genre of temporaryism, but I’m here now so I’m going to lean into it with everything I have). But much like my college essay, Kaufman’s story succeeds. It speaks to the shame and insecurities all humans have: our inappropriate thoughts, our loneliness, our feelings of inadequacy — especially in the face of others’ success, and our inability to act normal around the people we crush on.
Kaufman’s made-up brother Donald is the perfect devil on Charlie’s shoulder, while also embodying all the better aspects about himself that he has trouble believing. Your first film screenplay becoming an Oscar-nominated hit? Must be a fluke. Wanting to employ voiceovers when the screenwriting professor is chiding you for it? You clearly don’t know what you’re doing. Getting the girl in the end? That’s not who you really are.
Getting the girl in the end was really one of the reasons I didn’t give this movie a better rating. The plot soars on its originality and then comes crashing down with the most clichéd ending. Why not have an end-credit wedding dance montage while you’re at it??
And while I praise Kaufman for his bravery and relatability, there were numerous times I wanted to shake Cage’s character and scream, “Stop feeling so damn sorry for yourself!” It does start to feel overplayed at a certain point. And it’s one thing to open yourself up to criticism, but to turn the real Susan Orlean into a crazy drug addict made me feel sorry for her. But then again, she was the one who agreed to have her name used beforehand. And I’m sure by the time the film gets to the point where Meryl Streep is a disheveled, gun-wielding mess wading through a swamp, the audience has figured out that we have crossed the line from real-world parallels into yet another outrageous Hollywood adaptation.
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