It is difficult to review a film which has so few reference points to other movies so as to make comparisons almost impossible.
The opening scenes mess with the audience to the extent of showing Nicolas Cage acting as the real life screenwriter on the set of “Being John Malkovich” (BJM). I guess realistically this is a recreated set in which the real John Malkovich and John Cusack appear as cameos.
Following so far?
Then things start to get really weird.
Nicolas Cage also plays the more confident & smooth twin (Charlie & Rob Kaufman respectively). These people exist in real life as they are credited as writing this movie just as they were for BJM. Charlie, who is a bundle of neuroses worthy of a separate Woody Allen film, has been selected to adapt the “Orchid Thief” novel into a movie. To complicate matters this book is also real, as is the author Susan Orlean, well played here by Meryl Streep as a deeply sad albeit very successful human being.
Not having read the book, it is difficult for me summarise where real life intrudes and fiction starts. I would hope fiction plays a large part otherwise Ms Orlean surely had a spectacular fall from grace. From magazine writer & novelist to drug crazed addict, paddling in an alligator filled Florida swamp with a pistol in her hand.
If it’s all true then maybe she needs a new agent.
Charlie’s struggling screenwriter twin brother Rob, begs for scraps of wisdom with which to fashion his own derivative psycho slasher movie. This of course sells for millions, after some polishing by screenwriter guru cliché (Brian Cox). This forces Charlie to request his brothers help in finishing his own screenplay, which is spectacularly blocked “Barton Fink” style. Attempts to speak directly with the author for inspiration are mired in neuroses causing Rob to stand in for Charlie to get to the “heart of the story”.
The real character of the piece is John Laroche (Chris Cooper), sometime adventurer and avid collector of pretty much anything until it bores him. His current fancy is flowers, Orchids to be more precise. Stealing them from the swamp, using a loop hole in the law that allows his Native Indian sometime employees to harvest plants for legitimate ethnic purposes. John is exciting, he makes good copy in the magazine and makes an even better book once written.
Orlean however, can write about life but cannot really live it in any meaningful way.
John Laroche is her portal to real life.
Unfortunately, much like someone who is starving and finds a chocolate bar, Laroche is too “rich” for her first taste of life and spins her unknowingly out of control.
Laroche is a wonderful creation, tough, vulnerable, outspoken and slightly mad in a functional kind of way.
Cooper plays him to the full in a career best performance.
It is interesting, that many people will barely comment that Cage engagingly plays two very different characters that talk, touch and generally interact seamlessly in the same scene. Effects are now so good that we barely register them any more.
Towards the end of the film, it is possible to reflect on the question of how exactly did the movie get to this point? The opening half an hour gives few clues as to where the story ultimately ends up.
Maybe the movie is a love story, pure and simple. Can Charlie pluck up the courage to kiss his girlfriend and walk into the sunset?
Maybe the rest is window dressing, pretty and diverting but dressing all the same.
The king of off beat is back. Spike Jonze serves up another well crafted piece of weirdness that will probably delight and infuriate in equal measure. What is real and imagined after a while no longer matters, go for the ride and there is a good movie in there waiting to be discovered.