In preparation for this Thursday's release of Charlie Kaufman's latest movie, Anomalisa, I’ve been rewatching ALL THE FILMS (six films) written and directed by the critically acclaimed, eccentric screenwriter (and sometimes director). I saw most them in the theater as they came out, and felt okay about them—but this time, as I’m watching them, I’m noticing all this nuance I never saw before. Am I coming around to Charlie Kaufman? Am I just stoned? Of course I’m stoned. Weed is legal now.
So I’ve been watching the Kaufman films stoned and I love it. Have you guys tried this? I think I GET Charlie Kaufman in a way I never have before! All you Blogtowns are invited to smoke along with me and get into the comments with your insights/freakouts! First up:
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH
Being John Malkovich (1999) and was Kaufman's first script that actually got made. It took him about a decade to get it off the ground due to the necessity of having Malkovich in a central role. Malkovich loved the script. He even wanted to produce it, but he wouldn't be in it. Did they think about Being Tom Cruise?! Would we believe Tom Cruise is alone on a random evening trying to order a periwinkle bathmat from a telephone shopping catalog? (No! Yes. Maybe?)
Kaufman refused to make the film with anyone else, and Malkovich eventually came around to the idea that a film about an unemployed puppeteer who discovers a portal into John Malkovich's brain wouldn’t be the end of his career.
Stoned impressions: First off, fuck this world where puppetry is SLIGHTLY more commonplace than it is in the real world. And when I say "fuck this world," I mean "this is a wonderful movie." Cameron Diaz is good at acting in this film! It's not like I didn't think she could. It just never occurred to me that she would.
It’s so difficult to separate the character of Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) from the picture of David Foster Wallace on the back of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. This movie will never not secretly be the story of David Foster Wallace finding a portal into John Malkovich's brain. That's just the situation.
This movie has a wonderful recurring musical theme. You won't remember that until you're watching it high, but that's how it is. Well done, Carter Burwell! Carter Burwell generally works on Coen brothers films. Being John Malkovich holds up great. I can see why it launched Kaufman and director Spike Jonze into their fancy careers.
That’s a young Peter Dinklage with a gun and I know you’re already getting your galoshes on, ready to run to the video store to rent Human Nature but hold on a minute. I’ve got the spins. I mean, this movie wasn’t very good.
I suspected it wasn’t going to be very good. This is the only Kaufman film I didn’t see in the theater. It slipped under my radar completely, despite its Patricia Arquette-ness. The general idea of Human Nature (2001) is that Lila Jute (Arquette) is a woman with an overactive hormone condition that causes her to rapidly grow thick hair all over her body. Hilarity and drama ensue.
Stoned impressions: At first, the camera cuts were moving so quickly that I had a hard time latching onto the plot. I experienced a brief window of hope that this was a secret genius film. Ebert gave it a good review!
But Human Nature is ultimately a very frustrating film because it‘s so dull (and there’s singing) and then occasionally something pretty funny happens or Peter Dinklage shows up! I couldn’t even zone out properly. Human Nature is supposed to be a farce, but I can’t really figure out who it’s farcing. I mean, satirizing.
I watched Human Nature after reading this alternate ending to Being John Malkovich, where Lotte begins a romantic relationship with her chimp, Elijah, declaring him more of a man than Craig Schwartz. It's interesting to see that theme carried forward in this terrible film, but I'm glad that this is a lesser-known Kaufman. Director Michel Gondry also got wrapped up in this mess, too. He's pretty good at getting wrapped up in messes.
TOMORROW! Come back, because I'll be getting stoned and watching Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind!