Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief is a very good read. The film, however, is weird and tries too hard to be clever. There were a few things I liked about it, but generally I didn’t enjoy the experience.
The film sees the author (played by Meryl Streep) approach an orchid obsessive, John Laroche (Chris Cooper) who was on trial for stealing rare orchids from a state reserve in Florida. Her journalism for The New Yorker is well-received and she sets out to write a book. Fast-forward three years after publication and a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage) is stressing out over how to adapt the book. He ends up writing himself into the movie. Then all kinds of things happen to liven up the story. The title Adaptation works on different levels and is very apt for this unusual film.
There seemed to be more of a focus on Nicholas Cage than anything else. He plays twin brothers (Charlie and Donald, screenwriters) and is rather annoying. I wasn’t sure about the portrayal of Susan Orlean. She didn’t seem as sharp and intrepid as her writing in the book suggested. Her film version also appears to be sad, lonely, desperate and a drug user. This is of course a projection of what the screenwriter thinks would make a good film. Susan can’t merely follow John Laroche around and then write a book and then nothing else happens. There’s no drama in that.
While the book was a portrait of Florida with in depth explorations of its history, flora, fauna, people and atmosphere, little of this translates to the film. Even the trial of Laroche and the conflict between state law and Native American rights, which occupied a significant amount of the book, is very lightly touched upon. The film veered too far away from the original material in favour of what seems to be a commentary on the process of adapting books for the screen. I didn’t find it very funny, either, although it’s supposed to be a hilarious comedy.
This film had a lot of praise from the critics, but it’s getting no praise from me.
Low-resolution image sourced from Wikipedia.