Hollywood movies don't come more subversive, inventive and daring than this hilarious comedy from the creative team behind "Being John Malkovich".
But explaining the plot is a swine. In short, it's about an insecure, self-loathing screenwriter struggling to adapt Susan Orlean's book "The Orchid Thief".
Here's the twist: the screenwriter is "Adaptation." scribe Charlie Kaufman, who has written himself into his own fiercely original screenplay.
He's played by Nicolas Cage, who gives the finest performances of his career. Performances? Yes, because to confuse things further, Cage also plays Charlie's (fictional) twin brother, Donald - a wannabe writer who plagues his sibling with questions about his own dumb, 'high-concept' serial killer thriller.
As Charlie wrestles with Orlean's book, we also follow the writer herself (played by an exuberant Meryl Streep) as she researches the source material - interviewing eccentric orchid fancier John Laroche (Chris Cooper) and searching for the quasi-mythical, life-affirming 'ghost orchid'.
Apologies, but no synopsis can do "Adaptation." justice, and to reveal more could spoil its surprises. Kaufman worries (off-screen as well as on, presumably) over writing about himself - "it’s self-indulgent, it’s narcissistic" - but it’s refreshing and funny.
Anyone who has ever tried to write will empathise with his struggles, and film fans will delight in the barbs aimed at the film industry.
The final third lurches into outlandish territory, but this proves to be an audacious continuation of the filmmakers' themes - a brave, triumphant joke, which manages to be knowing, postmodern and ironic, yet also uplifting, moving and sincere. Quite a trick.
So, how do you finish a review of a movie this good? What would Kaufman do? Perhaps write about writing the review. Then write about writing about writing the review. Bet other critics will do that. This doesn't work, does it? How come it works in "Adaptation."? Simple. Charlie Kaufman is a genius.