Friday, May 13, 2011

1999 Saturn Fantasy – BEING JOHN MALKOVICH

This is another example of a film that makes me happy to be covering the Saturn winners. One of the most original concepts out there, Being John Malkovich uses a fantastic plot device to explore issues of identity. The film is the debut feature of director Spike Jonze, who does a great job with some odd visuals, but the real attraction is screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who is yet to write a movie that is not ingenuously cerebral (and they’re usually entertaining as well).

John Cusack plays a struggling puppeteer named Craig who is married to an animal lover named Lotte (played by a surprisingly unattractive, frizzy-haired Cameron Diaz). Both lust after Craig’s coworker, Maxine, played by Catherine Keener. Craig works in a half-sized floor of a New York office building, and, one day he discovers a small door that leads to a tunnel that leads into the mind of actor John Malkovich. Maxine and Craig soon begin to sell tickets, while Craig and Lotte begin to use John Malkovich’s body to sleep with Maxine. Yeah, that old story.

All of the actors deliver career performances, and the film is consistently amusing, even while it raises interesting questions about identity: Craig and Lotte both prefer living in the body of a celebrity – even a lesser-known one – to their own sad lives. Maxine is incredibly comfortable in her skin, but her need for the adoration of others and her callousness show that she is also disturbed. Anything can happen, and the film even lives up to its speculative fiction credentials by developing the nature and rules of the Malkovich tunnel. This is a fantastic film, and one of the clearest representations of the American film Renaissance of the late ‘90s. It’s about as different as can be from The Matrix, but it’s at least as good.

Grade: A

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