Being John Malkovich (1999)

Directed by Spike Jonze
Written by Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman is somewhat of an anomaly in Hollywood in a couple way. For one, he is perhaps the most unique screenwriters working in the business today because of the zany ideas he comes up with and the way in which he delivers them. He is also a bot more visible I would say than the majority of his peers, and that is in many ways thanks to not only his crazy stories, but also to the success of them. To help guide his stories onto the screen, Kaufman has also found himself working with equally strange and equally talented directors behind the camera. People like Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and believe it or not Charlie Kaufman himself. Until 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are, Kaufman scripts were the only feature films Jonze had directed.

This journey finds a struggling New York puppeteer named Craig (John Cusack) in a strange new workplace as a file clerk. The company he works for resides on the 7 1/2 floor, which features low ceiling and strange co-workers. Once such co-worker is the sexy Maxine (Catherine Keener), whom the married Craig is smitten with. And when he finds a mysterious door behind one of his cabinets, he discovers it is a portal into the world of actor John Malkovich, played by the actor himself. When Craig’s wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) tries it out, she finds herself falling in love with Maxine, who has encountered Malkovich outside the portal. But Craig steps in and intends to permanently inhabit Malkovich to get to Maxine, and use his fame to catapult his puppeteering career.

The most unique, and probably most awesome, thing about this whole project has to be John Malkovich. For long I have been a fan of his style of acting and the many roles he has played, especially that one as a jewel thief. But the fact that that is the actor chosen by Kaufman is brilliant because who wouldn’t want to be John Malkovich for 15 minutes. But it is even better than Malkovich agreed to the film and to star in it. I wouldn’t call any of the performances all that memorable, even though Keener was nominated for an Academy Award, but the ensemble is fantastic. I would have never guessed that John Cusack and Cameron Diaz could come together in such a quirky movie and pull it off so brilliantly.

But the true genius obviously lies with Kaufman and Jonze. The story and premise are insane, so much so that no one else in the world would ever dream something like this up, but that is what makes it so charming. On top of that, the themes that are approached by the film are intriguing as well. It tackles the concepts of inadequacy and low self-esteem. It even tackles such large themes as love. But just the mere concept of the theft of Malkovich’s idea is enough to make me think about the film for hours afterward. It is not a light film in this regard, and yet the manner in which it is delivered makes it very very light. You cannot help but laugh at the absurdity of the delivery, which is executed so well by Jonze.

This might be my least favorite Jonze film. This might be my least favorite Kaufman film that I have seen. But the key word in those descriptions is the word favorite because Jonze and Kaufman are favorites of mine because of their brilliant work to date, this film included. They are two filmmakers working today which will attract all of my attention when they release a film, together or otherwise. There is just no one else out there with the vision and vivid imagination of these two, and especially not in the mainstream which is what really makes them unique. Despite their oddity, they are both fairly popular in the mainstream.



  1. I think that Jonze and Kaufman are brilliant. And I love all their other work, but this one left me cold. Not because of the ideas, but because every character is mean or thoughtless. Not just hapless or confused as other Kaufman characters can be, but purposefully selfish. I just couldn't deal with that for the whole film, as brilliant as it was.


  2. I really love Being John Malkovich. Actually It's one of my favorite Kaufman movies. I love the silliness, the imagination running wild. I bet I'd be just as amused as I was the first time if I watched it again (as opposed to the so-much-loved S.N.Y., which to be honest had me fall asleep for some reason. That is MY least favorite movie from those).


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