Being John Malkovich review

:. Director: Spike Jonze
:. Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz
:. Running Time: 1:52
:. Year: 1999
:. Country: USA

You have to see it to believe it. Since seeing it, I have kept my eyes peeled for that 7 1/2 floor of a building with a hidden door leading to the secret portal that will take me inside John Malkovich. Pipedream? Yes, but this surrealist movie by Spike Jonze makes it all seem possible. Being John Malkovich defies a normal review. Jonze screws with, simultaneously, your mind and everday reality. Like a round of "Exquisite corpse" with some old school surrealists, the perceptions and associations are so off the wall that eventually you can't take anymore. The fact that it's hilarious on top of that adds to the pleasure. It would be easy to make this an artsy fartsy pretentious pretentious film, but he doesn't.

Charlie Kaufman's script deserves an Oscar for most innovative screenplay immediately.Craig Schwartz (John Cusack playing the perfect loser) is a schmucky puppeteer who has not yet skyrocketed to the top of the puppet world. He's got the talent, but not worldwide respect. His animal lover wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz as a frustrated frump), who gives the impression that she smells like a monkey litterbox, spends her time at the pet store while Craig avoids looking for work. After getting puched out for putting on a pornograghic puppet show on the streets of New York featuring doomed lovers Abelard and Heloise, Craig goes to work as a filer at LesterCorp, since he has nimble fingers. It's on the 7 1/2 floor and eveyone walks stooped over. Craig's boss Lester (Orson Bean) has a secret agenda I won't share with you that explains his office conditions.

Craig becomes attracted to his co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener). Maxine is mean, dazzling psychobitch who toys with Craig and attacks him without warning. Craig, of course, loves the humiliation. Filing away one day Craig finds a door behind the filing cabinet that leads to a small tunnel full of slimy sludge. He goes in and is pulled down to find himself in the consciousness of John Malkovich (who in this performance regales us with his gift of self mockery). Craig stays in about 15 minutes, then is thrown onto the New Jersey Turnpike. He tells his wife, and when Lottle does it and experiences being Malkovich taking a shower, she decides she is a transsexual. Craig figures this is his ticket to get Maxine. When he tells her, crafty woman that she is, she figures they can charge people 200 bucks to experience Malkovich for 15 minutes. All goes well, until John Malkovich gets in line and discovers what it's like to be inside of himself. He enters a room filled with Malkoviches in an intensely funny scene. Also, Lotte falls for Maxine and they decide to have an affair through Malkovich. Lottie goes down the portal while Maxine goes down on Malkovich, resulting in the most bizarre threesome this side of Wisconsin. Needless to say, Craig gets jealous and fights back. Not only will I not give up the rest of the plot, it's too much to go over in one paltry movie review. But suffice to know that as a puppeteer Craig is able to master dominating Malkovich while inside him, and Malkovich changes careers.

Fine acting by Keener, Malkovich, Diaz, and Cusack. Malkovich plays the character "Malkovich" in the way we imagine him to be, rich and smug. Keener's performance is wonderful and adds zip to the film. Her alluring manliness unnerves emasculated Craig and fires up Lotte. Diaz plays a good frump, while Cusack plays a good loser who turns the tables. Adding to this Malkovich stew are the cameos. Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen have the good humor to play along in Jonze's theater. Although, you know it must surely be fiction when Sheen plays Malkovich's best friend and encourages him to keep dating Maxine the "hot lesbian witch". Brad Pitt also flits by.

Of the themes of the movie, the perverse thirst for celebrity on which our culture thrives dominates. Craig dreams of being a master puppeteer and can do so through Malkovich. We see Malkovich though, and his life is pretty damn boring. People come up to him, sure, but they don't even know which movies he's been in. On top of that, he eats toast and showers just like everyone else. Jonze goes far beyond The Truman Show and EDTV, underlining that the camera merely following someone around is not enough anymore. Instead he suggests that we don't want revealing pictures of someone showering anymore; we want to be his hands and know about the most indignified of details. Obssessive voyeurism has been replaced by virtual reality.

Sexual morphing is also highlighted in the relationship shared between Maxine and Lotte. Whereas Lottle wants to be a man as soon as she experiences being Malkovich, Maxine will at first only go through Malkovich. Her hesitation, in contrast to everyone else's willingness to throw themselves down the portal, sheds some light on those that do not want to be someone else. She is the only one comfortable in her sexual skin. This desire to be someone else spirals into cruelty. To his credit, Jonze does not moralize on any of these issues, presenting them instead without bias.

Freshness is what ultimately makes this film so appealing. Throughout the film a new energy is present, that of a new voice with that can walk the delicate line between indie and Hollywood without succombing to overt commercialism or isolating pretentiousness, instead creating a successful, creative picture. Happily, it appears that we are at the beginning of a new era.

If this is too heavy, do not fear. You will be laughing as much as thinking.

  Anji Milanovic

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