Being John Malkovich – Review

16 Oct

There are some movies where I think to myself, “How did this even get made?” 9 times out of 10 that means that I’m watching a piece of shit movie that seems like little to no talent or effort went into it at all. Now, it’s true that I had the “how did this get made” though while I was watching Being John Malkovich, but it was the rare 1 out of 10 chance where I had this thought even as I was watching an incredible movie that was full of talent, effort, and one of the most original screenplays I have ever seen. Still, with a story as surreal and other worldly as this, the movie has a lot to say and it really is some of the most fun I ever had watching a film.

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Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a struggling puppeteer who has recently gotten a job on the 7 1/2 floor of an office building as a file clerk. The office has incredibly low ceilings and the only was to get there is by prying the elevator doors open when it is in between the seventh and eighth floors, but that isn’t the strangest part about it. Hidden behind a filing cabinet is a portal that leads Schwartz, and anyone who enters into the mind of John Malkovich (who plays himself). Craig and his coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), who refuses to return the love that Craig is pouring on her, decide to open the portal to the public for two hundred dollars. Everything seems to be going fine for everyone (except John Malkovich) until Maxine and Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), become attracted to each other, but Maxine will only love her if she is inside John Malkovich. This odd love quadrangle soon results an existential crisis for everyone involved.

While this movie was released in 1999, I saw that an early draft of the script was actually being circulated by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as early as 1989. This just adds to the miracle that this movie was made in the first place. Screenplays are very often around for years before being made, but this one is just so odd. John Malkovich was attached as producer for a while, but never actually planned on playing himself when the movie was made. Many people were suggesting other actors to play the part, including Tom Cruise, but Kaufman was only going to allow the movie to be made if John Malkovich was the celebrity whose mind would be entered. After much convincing, Malkovich decided to act in the movie, and the rest is history at its most surreal.

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From the get go, this movie plays by its own rules, and I need to give so  much credit to Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, who before this movie only worked on music videos and commercials and is now an Academy Award winning film maker/writer. The fact that these two took a story about a portal that leads to the mind of John Malkovich and then spits you out on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike and made it work well is really incredible. Beneath all of the surrealism and strangeness is a wonderful look at how people obsess over the idea of celebrity to the point where they want to stop being themselves in exchange for a life that is much more exciting. If you want to dig deeper, it actually is a powerful movie about self worth and respect that is hidden beneath a dreamscape of portals and advocates of ever lasting life.

Another thing that’s wonderful about Being John Malkovich is that it made me laugh, and laugh very hard. The now famous “Malkovich, Malkovich” scene is one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a movie ever. I feel like I’m very harsh on comedies in the sense that it has to be original, somewhat smart or witty, and not rely on gross out or sexual humor. A movie that doesn’t apply to these personal rules are not funny to me. This film almost exists on a different dimensional plane of comedy where people like the members of Monty Python thrive. It’s smart and original on so many levels, but also just unbelievably funny. This is comedy, ladies and gentlemen.

Being John Malkovich is one of the most interesting, original, and insightful comedies that I’ve seen in a long time, not to mention that it provided me with enough surrealism to last a year. This was to be expected from the writer of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation, and the director of Her and some of the most wild music videos you’ll see. This is an excellent film that I would normally say isn’t for everyone, but it really sorta is for everyone. I feel like there’s joy in this movie for everyone and even some things that everyone can relate to. Being John Malkovich is one of the best comedies of all time.

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