Film of the book: ‘Adaptation’ (2002)

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.

8 thoughts on “Film of the book: ‘Adaptation’ (2002)”

  1. So just now it clicked with me that I know this film. I haven’t seen it, but I have heard about it and saw the trailer on the internet. I had no idea though it was supposed to be a comedy! To me it seemed a drama if I remember well

    1. I hadn’t heard of it before I read the book. Well the film is very dramatic, that’s for sure, but it’s supposed to be funny in a dark way.

  2. Totally agreed. I loved the book The Orchid Thief and the weird sort of meta-commentary angle that the film took lost everything that was special and significant about the book in the first place. You put this all into words really well!

    1. Glad you agree! The angle this film took was just too far from the book so it was never going to please fans of the book. It just does its own thing. Thanks for your comment 🙂

    1. Thank you! I know Nicholas Cage was much lauded for his role in this film and I’m sure he’s an accomplished actor, I just don’t warm to him.

  3. I hadn’t heard of the book or the film, and I was surprised to learn Nicholas Cage was in a film with Meryl Streep. Based on that alone, I think I’ll have to see it – but I won’t have high expectations.

    1. You might like it – had a lot of praise and it’s certainly unusual. I do like Meryl Streep but there’s something about Nicholas Cage that annoys me :/

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