Coming off the success of "Being John Malkovich," the highly neurotic Charlie is determined not to repeat himself, so he takes on the job of adapting "The Orchard Thief," the non-fiction novel by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) about renowned orchid breeder John Laroche (Chris Cooper). However, Charlie's stuck on how to translate the book for the screen, and his writer's block is not helped by his unrequited crush on Caroline (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the irritating success of his confident twin brother, who blithely writes an inane serial killer screenplay called "The 3" that immediately excites great interest in Hollywood.
That's just part of the convoluted tale of "Adaptation," which adroitly mixes real-life personalities (Orlean, Laroche and even popular screenwriting teacher Robert McKee, sharply impersonated by Brian Cox) along with fictional characters, such as Caroline and Donald Kaufman (his apparent existence given his writing credit on this film notwithstanding).
Though ultimately not as crazily original as "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation" is actually a more ambitious film, which at its best captures the push-and-pull of art versus commerce and the ramifications of following one's heart in love and life. But "Adaptation" is also a wickedly funny movie, never more so then when the two Cages interact on screen. (You'll swear there are two actors playing the subtly opposite brothers.) Streep, too, as the lonely Orlean and Cooper, brilliant as the mysterious Laroche, are equally fine.
The last third of "Adaptation," wherein fact and fiction blur uninterestingly, is a failure of the imagination but, until then, it's refreshingly unique. Starring Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper. Directed by Spike Jonze. Written by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman. Produced by Edward Saxon, Vincent Landay and Jonathan Demme. Comedy/Drama. A Columbia release. Not yet rated. Running time: 115 min