Being John Malkovich (1999) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, John Malkovich, Charlie Sheen, David Fincher (cameo), Spike Jonze (cameo), Sean Penn (cameo), Brad Pitt (cameo)
Director: Spike Jonze
Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman
Review published April 29, 2000
If, as Andy Warhol quipped, everyone is famous for 15 minutes, why does it have to also cost $200?!
Perhaps the most original comedy to come out in the 90s, Being John Malkovich is another in a new wave of films by newcomer writers and directors (American Beauty, Election, The Matrix, etc.) that are better than the works of most writers and directors who've been at it for decades.
This tells the story of Craig (Cusack, Pushing Tin), a struggling Bohemian puppeteer, who takes a job as a file clerk to make ends meet. Although married, he becomes infatuated with a co-worker named Maxine (Keener, 8MM), who wants little to do with him until he stumbles upon a hidden doorway in the low-ceilinged floor in which they work. The doorway is worthy of note since it is a link into the head of the actor John Malkovich (Rounders, The Man in the Iron Mask) himself, and for 15 minutes anyone who enters the portal will be able to see and hear whatever Malkovich hears. The duo cashes in by charging $200 for the public to experience "the ride" for themselves, and when Craig's wife Lotte (Diaz, Very Bad Things) goes in, it changes her perception about her life, falling for Maxine herself.
No doubt it's the Oscar-nominated script by first-time screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that makes this film succeed so brilliantly, but kudos should also go out to first-time (and also Oscar-nominated) director Spike Jonze for some impressive work, and a cast of actors who are perfect in their respective roles. John Malkovich gives one of his best performances ever, even though it's as himself.
Lots of symbolism and a multi-textured, multi-leveled story will have people studying this film for years. Only trouble is, what can Spike and Charlie do for an encore? (Answer: The almost equally brilliant, Adaptation.) Being John Malkovich is brilliant, funny and, like the trip into Malkovich's head, an experience you won't soon forget.
©2000 Vince Leo