Director: Spike Jonze
…Sorry about that. Here’s a movie that leaves me speechless. Totally astounded. I can hardly review it, as shaken as I am. I’ve seen tons of brilliant movies which affected me in plenty of different ways, but “Being John Malkovich” defies all expectations. It touches you in places you didn’t think a film could reach. It’s everything at once, thoughts, feelings, urges… But it is not total confusion. It does make sense. A lot. And it’s hysterically funny, too ! Describing it like a unusual film wouldn’t do it justice. This is more of an experience; it’s almost like being high. Here’s a film that sends you into strange realms of conscience, a film that can’t even spell conventional. It’s surreal. This is a send-back to the vibe of the best works of Bunuel and Lynch, combined with the best kind of comedy, when you think, are moved and laugh at the same time.
Usually, I’d be giving you a plot summary by now, but I wouldn’t dare (nor could) spoil the film’s countless surprises. Let’s just say that it stars John Cusack as Craig Schwartz, a brilliant but misunderstood puppeteer who’s trapped in a boring life because he doesn’t have the confidence to go after what he wants. He’s comfortably married to Lotte (Cameron Diaz, effectively cast against type), who’s also unfulfilled but gets to lose herself in her obsession with exotic pets. Craig finally decides to surrender to the man and gets a job as a filing clerk. That’s where he meets Maxine (Catherine Keener), an uncompromising femme fatale full of attitude whom he instantly desires beyond reason. He can’t even hold her attention for a second, that is until he finds a portal in his office which puts you inside the head of Hollywood actor John Malkovich, who plays himself.
Lost yet? And this is just the first act! Writer Charlie Kaufman and first-time director Spike Jonze take this quirky and intriguing concept and explore all its mind-bending possibilities. The picture that ensues blends offbeat comedy, philosophical allegory and twisted human drama into an uncompromising masterpiece. Cusack, Diaz and Keener are at their best, but that’s nothing compared to the extremely gutsy performance by Malkovich, who’s not afraid to mock his creepy, oddly appealing persona. That must be because he knows he’s in a film as smart as they get, and that it’s all in fun too. Like “The Truman Show” and “Groundhog Day”, the film uses humor and fantasy to make you realize things about life and human nature.
Kaufman’s script is greatish: three-dimensional characters, challenging ideas, sharp dialogue… You can’t ask for more! But there is, as Kaufman’s wit is matched by that of director Jonze, a certified mad genius. You could feel it in his work as music video director, which led to such gems as the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” and Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” (in which Jonze also starrred as the goofy dance choreographer Richard Kouffe). But it’s with his feature film debut that you see what a visionary he is. He balances the film beautifully between restraint and over-the-top, directing the outrageous with an almost documentary style and putting crazy spins on steady things. Everyone will find something in this film. It’s sad and funny and goofy and irreverent and silly and profound and low-key and flashy and harsh and poetic. It’s art, it’s life… It’s “Being John Malkovich”.