Rarely have the ideas of a writer and the creative vision of a
director been so in synch as with this delightfully off beat and
surreal black comedy about an out of work puppeteer who discovers a
mysterious portal into the head of actor John Malkovich. What is even
more surprising is that Being John Malkovich is the first feature film
from both writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, better
known for his rock video clips for artists such as the Beastie Boys,
Fat Boy Slim and REM.
Unemployed puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is pushed
into finding a real job by his animal loving wife Lotte (an
unrecognisable Cameron Diaz). He ends up working as a filing clerk
for a firm buried away in an office stranded on the legendary 71/2
floor, located halfway between the seventh and eighth floor of a city
office block. One day he discovers a boarded up door behind a row of
filing cabinets. Intrigued he enters the door, only to find himself
inside a tunnel that somehow transports him into the head of noted
American thespian John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons, etc).
When he tells his colleague Maxine (a perfectly bitchy
Catherine Keener, from 8MM, etc) about the secret portal, she decides
to turn it into a business and charge people for the rare opportunity
to enter someone else's mind. An unusual sexual triangle also
develops between Schwartz, his wife Lotte and Maxine, with Malkovich
himself reluctantly caught in the middle.
Malkovich even proves that he is a good sport with his
enthusiastic participation in this film. When he was offered the
script, Malkovich could easily have run the other way, but instead he
sends up his normally intense and serious persona with rare relish.
The scene in which Malkovich uses the portal to enter inside his own
head is the most outlandish moment in a film crammed full of unusual
ideas, outrageous plot elements and unexpected developments.
Unfortunately not everything in the film is completely successful, and
some moments fall a little flat.
Being John Malkovich is a film of dark comic genius that asks
audiences to consider what they would do if they could be someone
else, even if only for fifteen minutes at a time. Kaufman's absurd
but sharp and cleverly written script draws a potent link between sex,
power and manipulation, but there is also something of a nasty streak
to its eccentric sense of humour. Given its bizarre premise, this
decidedly quirky comedy could have been a first class disaster, but
first time director Jonze handles the material with an assurance and
inventiveness that somehow makes it all work. Cusack brings a manic
energy to his role that seems to propel the film along nicely. Jonze
has cleverly cast his actors against type, thus subverting audience's
expectations for much of the film. There are also brief cameos from
the likes of Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and others, that add a certain stamp
of authenticity to the bizarre chain of events.
Being John Malkovich is a surprisingly inventive film that
stuffs in more original ideas than most other films this year. It is
certainly one of 1999's most unusual and challenging, yet surprisingly
Copyright © 2000 Greg King