one of Shadows' all-time best films Being John Malkovich


Maxine and Craig (Keener and Cusack) start up a little side business on the 7 floor...
dir Spike Jonze scr Charlie Kaufman
with John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, Charlie Sheen, W Earl Brown, Carlos Jacott, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt
Gramercy 99/US 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Probably the most outlandishly original film this year, Being John Malkovich is a hilarious and beguiling comedy-adventure-mystery-romance hybrid. And it's not just the jaw-dropping oddity of the thing that makes it work; the film has a wonderfully involving--and even moving--storyline.

Craig (Cusack) is a scruffy, struggling puppeteer/performance artist who can't make ends meet so he takes a job as a filing clerk in an eccentric New York office building. But all of this has put a serious stress on him and his pet-collecting wife Lotte (Diaz, unrecognizable in a frizzy brown hairdo), and he's soon attracted to his sultry new coworker Maxine (Keener). Then Craig discovers a small door in his office that leads into the head of actor John Malkovich, and soon Craig and Maxine have a business going, allowing the paying public to be Malkovich for 15-minutes. But wrinkles develop: Craig, Maxine and Lotte start playing strange head games with each other as they assume Malkovich's identity ... and then the actor figures out what's going on. Well, at least part of it.

The most pleasant surprise is how this outlandish premise works on such a personal level. The humour ranges from broad comedy (the half-height of Craig's new workplace) to the absurd (Malkovich's trip into his own head) to acerbic wickedness. And the actors are terrific, with great performances that bring real heart and soul to the piece. This contrasts the sheer daring of it all with a warm-hearted (albeit very complicated) romantic centre that examines themes of trust, identity, fame and even mortality. And even when a big-conspiracy subplot threatens to take over, the film is still much, much more than a wacky comedy.

[15--themes, language, sex] 10.Nov.99
US release 29.Oct.99; UK release 17.Mar.00

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1999 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall