Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Mary Kay Place,
Orson Bean, Catherine Keener, and John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich is one of the most bizarre films that Hollywood
released in 1999. I'm not talking David Lynch bizarre, or something like
the recent misfire Breakfast of Champions (the Bruce Willis/Nick
Nolte interpretation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel), which was so out there
in left field that you needed a decoder, translator and a scorecard
to try to make sense of what was going on. No, I'm talking about the fascinating
kind of bizarre where you sit in awe and think "wow" instead
of shaking your head in frustration. Since I've already used up all my
rights to this word in such a short time span, I will tell you what else
this film is: highly original, inventive, daring, entertaining and exhausting.
You're left wanting more, and, more importantly, you want to know which
new direction the film will be taking you in.
The biggest travesty here is that no one went to see this ingenious
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman collaboration when it first was released
in theaters (just in time for Oscar consideration). Moviegoers are always
complaining about the same old kind of movie that the Tinseltown suits
are churning out (or, better yet, rehashing) month after month.Malkovich
is everything that the critics went on and on about and more. It's a refreshing
eye opener to the crudeness that we hate to see and love to complain about.
Since it's now out on home video, this is your chance to redeem yourself
and pick up the exception to the all-too-usual moviegoing experience.
Kaufman's delicious screenplay (which picked up a well-deserved Oscar
nomination) revolves around poor Craig Schwartz (another seemingly effortless
piece of terrific acting from versatile veteran John Cusack), a puppeteer,
who not only is in desperate need of a good paying job, but an energy
boost as well. This introverted guy is as glum as one can get. Nobody
appreciates his artistry. His wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who works in
a pet store (their home conveniently resembles Noah's Ark), has had it
with Craig's down-in-the-dumps attitude and demands that her partner find
some serious work.
Wouldn't you know it, but Craig (thanks to his nimble, little fingers)
gets a job as a speed-filing clerk (I'm not kidding folks). His job is
on the 7 1/2 floor of a huge office building where everyone has to carefully
crouch down to do anything because there's only a few feet from the floor
to the ceiling. Craig also has to put up with his horny, 100-year-old
boss (a priceless Orson Bean) and his hard of hearing assistant (an equally
effective Mary Kay Place). In addition, our hero wastes no time in falling
for his sexy, vamp-of-a-coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener, in a well-deserved
Oscar nominated turn), who is completely uninterested. Craig soon discovers,
however, the one thing that might possibly catch Maxine's attention: Behind
an immense cabinet in one of the offices, he finds a hidden door which
leads one into the brain of accomplished actor John Malkovich, who should
be awarded a special Oscar for taking this role and putting so much bite
Maxine soon convinces Craig that he should actually charge people admission
for this - about a cool $200 for a measly 15-minute visit into the existence
of the Mice and Men star. She makes him realize that people would
gladly give away stacks of their dead presidents in order to get a chance
to be someone else (anyone else) even for a short time. Why not a famous
actor in this case?
It doesn't take long for everyone to get in on the act, resulting in
one of the most bizarre love triangles in the history of film. Craig immediately
falls for the extremely confident, and extroverted Maxine. Lotte, who
is experiencing a sexual identity crisis, also falls for her husband's
sexually tempting coworker, who, in turn, actually likes and appreciates
Lotte's advances. I better stop here before I start to spoil it for everyone.
Spike Jonze (who was best known before this gem simply as a director
of music videos) offers up a film that is not only hilarious but also
actually deep in meaning. Issues of self worth, self-identity and the
price some are willing to pay to achieve fame and happiness at all costs
are explored among others. Not everything here works, mostly because there
are just so many things going on at once (some rather disturbing), but
a good deal of kudos must go to the director and screenwriter for their
relentless pursuit of keeping moviegoers on their toes, and to all the
actors involved for making this insanity look fairly sane.
What other film can honestly boast about getting into the head of one
of Hollywood's most gifted (and reclusive) actors? To see what he sees
and feel what he feels for fifteen golden minutes at a time before being
conveniently, and appropriately spit out on the New Jersey turnpike? Complex
but brilliant stuff going on here. A movie that deals with the positives
and negatives of trying to be someone else.
Being John Malkovich is the kind of film that purposely strays
far, far away from the usual celluloid byproduct. This is exactly the
reason it deserves a viewing and some redemption on home video.