Monday 26 February 2024

Mubi Monday: Adaptation. (2002)

I remember when I first saw Adaptation. Like many people, I loved it. Another collaboration between Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, a great dual role for Nicolas Cage (playing an onscreen version of Kaufman and a fictional twin brother, Donald), and a cast that also includes Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and Tilda Swinton, as well as one or two other very familiar faces. What’s not to love?

As almost everyone knows by now, Adaptation. is a film that stemmed from severe writer’s block. Charlie Kaufman was struggling to adapt The Orchid Thief from page to screen, and eventually creates something, with the help of Jonze, that explored his painful creative journey, full of personal insecurity, frustration, and a checklist of things he wanted to avoid.

Here’s the thing I need to say now, ripping the band-aid off (as it were). Adaptation. isn’t actually as great as I remembered it. I am not saying that everyone will agree with me, but there may be a reason why it tends to be forgotten/overlooked in conversations about the respective filmographies of Jonze and Kaufman. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s arguably the least interesting feature to come from either of the main creative forces behind the camera here.

There’s a fine line between making use of something to explore and have fun with various ideas, turning the negatives into major positives, and simply giving yourself an easy option by commenting on everything that you are doing, or are about to do. The former is smart and insightful. The latter is often called “lampshading”, I believe. Revisiting Adaptation. two decades after I first saw it, it simply feels like Lampshade: The Movie. Others may strongly disagree with that, but knowing where the film goes makes all of the dialogue and commentary feel much less enjoyable on a repeat viewing.

At least the cast are well worth your time though. Cage is great, giving a couple of performances that serve as a reminder of why so many people stuck by him through some difficult years. This plays to his preference for nervous energy, but one of his characters is also offset by the circumstances grinding him down. Streep and Cooper both have a lot of fun, playing various versions of their characters that show us written fictions compared to complete “reality”. Alongside the ever-reliable Swinton are the equally excellent Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brian Cox, Judy Greer, and Cara Seymour, to name but a few welcome additions.

There is still a lot to enjoy here, not least of which is the brutal and hilarious honesty in the moments that have Kaufman showing his worries and struggles while facing a typewriter. I still like this, and would watch it again. I just don’t love it, and I don’t think it’s a truly great work any more.


If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of -
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form -
Or Amazon is nice at this time of year -


  1. I forget the last time I watched it. I think I still have it on DVD. Anyway, as a writer I can sympathize with a lot of what he goes through, which is really why I liked it in the first place.

    1. I have it on a double DVD set with Postcards From The Edge, bizarrely enough. The self-portrait of a pained writer is great, but it cannot quite cover up what I now view as a few typical tricks and tropes to get us along to the end credits.