Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Film review: "Adaptation" (2002)

It has been far too long since my last review.  And since there's a brief lacunae in Meryl project updates this week, I thought it would be a great time to review one of Meryl's finest performances, that of author Susan Orlean in 2002's Adaptation.  I saw this film in the theater right around the time I became a huge Meryl fan.  For reasons unknown to me, I didn't see it again until about two years ago with Joe.  The film happens to be one of his favorites.  He had to "remind" me about some of the plot details that diverge when the film's script is taken over by Donald, the fictional twin brother to real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

Directed by Spike Jonze, the story follows Charlie as he attempts to adapt Orlean's book The Orchid Thief into a screenplay.  Kaufman in real life had great trouble adapting the book and ended up creating a screenplay that included himself and his struggles.  He invented a twin brother (Donald) for his character, also a screenwriter, but the antithesis of Charlie's artistic approach to film writing.   The first half of the film is sort of meant to be what Charlie's storyline would look like onscreen, with the latter half more through the view of Donald, as he takes over for his brother when Charlie's writer's block becomes too much.

We therefore see Meryl (Orlean) at the beginning of the film in more of a professional character, as she follows eccentric horticulturalist John Laroche, getting info for her story on him and his arrest for alleged orchid poaching.  The fascinating moments in Meryl's acting come when, satirically, she portrays Orlean falling in love with Laroche and snorting drugs that were harvested from orchids to provide hallucinogenic effects.  See below.

Fabulous. I think believably playing drunk, high or crazy has got to be one of the most challenging prospects in acting.  It could so easily come off as goofy or distractingly over the top.  Here, Meryl plays it subtly and brilliantly.  The story progressively gets more typically thriller-like, again a satire on actual events demonstrated by writer Charlie Kaufman's fictional brother turning the story into a more formulaic Hollywood money-maker.

The Hours was released around the same time as this film. I consider 2002 as the year that sort of started Meryl's turn as a box office draw.  Her work in these two films, followed by HBO's Angels in America, The Devils Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! solidified her position as a heavyweight in the unlikely decade of her 50's.

Meryl of course was nominated for an Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role for her role as Orlean.  Catherine Zeta-Jones took home the award for her work in Chicago.  Despite how much I loved Chicago and Zeta-Jones in it, Meryl was robbed that year for Oscar.  It was such an amazing depiction and negotiation of a complex character and story.  She settled for a Golden Globe.  Chris Cooper won the supporting Oscar for portraying Laroche and in his acceptance speech said working with Meryl was like "making great jazz."


  1. I do wonder which of Meryl's oscar nominations she was more confident about. She has been the favourite 2 or 3 times and didn't go on to win and this was one of those times.

    The film itself was so fresh and interesting. One of the most quirky in Meryl's whole filmography.

    1. Such a great film and role. I remember thinking early on in that awards season (fall) that she had a great chance. Most people were predicting her until Zeta-Jones was pushed to supporting after the Globes.

  2. I know this loss may have pissed her off somewhat judging by her sailing past Kathy Bates and taking her to the bar for a commiseratory vodka!

    I'm sure she was also a little sore about the Doubt loss as she had a good chance going into it and also I feel she gave the performance of that year :(

    1. In both cases Weinstein delivered the win. And in both cases the actress who won was campaigned in a different category at the Globes. Winslet actually won for The Reader in supporting AND for Revolutionary Road in lead at the Globes that year. Meryl won the SAG in lead for Doubt. Zeta-Jones was in the running for lead musical comedy at the Globes, part of the reason Meryl was able to get the win in supporting there that year for Adaptation.

      All this makes it seem increasingly more likely that Weinstein would push Riberts this year in supporting. Moderate category fraud, but looking for as many noms and wins as possible.

  3. Absolutely. I agree with Meryl when she said the campaigning was unseemly. I wonder if Meryl would have won the SAG for Adaption had she not been counted out by a clerical error.

    I wish more films like this were made, truly one that uses Meryl's potential and tell a great story too!