I had the good fortune last week to attend not one, but two free media screenings. Tuesday morning was spent watching Analyse That (the sequel to Analyse This, natch); it was nothing to write home about. Wednesday’s screening of Adaptation at the IFC, however, was a much more interesting prospect, not only because I’ve heard so many good things about it and have been looking forward to seeing it for some time.
Director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s latest collaboration is nearly impossible to describe without giving too much away; the best I can do is that it’s a film about a film about a film about a book. I think. If you loved Being John Malkovich you’ll definitely enjoy Adaptation, probably more than once; in more than one way it’s a direct follow-on from that film, certainly a head-scratcher, full of clever twists and tricks, and even more confounding when you realise it was based on actual events. (The publicity surrounding the film has brought Susan Orlean’s book, on which the original screenplay was based, to a whole new audience.)
Whether you’ll love it, though, is a different story. Unfortunately the film is not without its disappointments; an excellent, truly inspired first half gives way to a final act that careers into self-parody, Kaufman mocking the writer’s block of his fictional self whilst suffering from the same affliction. (He could certainly benefit from some constructive criticism.) In turn, Jonze’s direction turns pedestrian, as if he handed the reins to his AD to go skateboarding with his Jackass buddies. (Something I wouldn’t put past him, with his reputation.) As a result, Adaptation is not as consistenly enthralling as its predecessor, at times far too knowingly ironic for its own good. I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated; I expected a magic show, but what I got was merely smoke and mirrors.
But then again, maybe I was asking for too much. I could certainly think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours – Analyse That, anyone?