Being John Malkovich

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 53 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A+

"Being John Malkovich" is the reason I hate movies like "Billy Madison". I hate comedies that rely on the same tired situations and boring sources of humor when there are ideas like "Being John Malkovich" just floating around in the ether, waiting to be discovered.

"Malkovich" tells the story of a pathetic young man named Craig Schwartz. Craig (John Cusack) is a puppeteer who cannot get a job. One day he applies for a job as a filing clerk on the 71/2 floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building. It is there he meets a brainy and enticing young woman (Catherine Keener, Best Supporting Actress nominee and the one who deserved to take the little golden guy home) who wants nothing to do with him. He also finds a portal behind a file cabinet that leads him into the head of John Malkovich (of all people).

Craig soon discovers that he can reside inside Malkovich's head for fifteen minutes at a time, experiencing everything that Malkovich experiences. Soon, Craig is selling tickets to anyone who wants to experience the life of Malkovich.

I am barely scratching the surface of this delightfully absurd comic fantasy. Easily the most original film in a decade and easily one of the funniest, the film is like a great, bizarre dream that you never want to wake from. The film could easily have become a one-joke film, repeating the same gag of people going into Malkovich's head and getting dumped out on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike fifteen minutes later, but somehow the film keeps finding delightful possiblilites and twists on its maniacal premise. It has a ball and explores all of the absurd turns that its story can take.

Not only that, but it accomplishes the astounding feat of making you actually care about its characters. You feel for them, because each of them is astoundingly well acted. Each of the performers sinks into their roles as if they are slipping into a looney glove. Cameron Diaz is remarkable as a frumpy housewife who likes her pets just a little too much. I said over and over last year that she should have gotten a Best Actress nomination for her work in "There's Something About Mary" and she is no less good here. She is one of our best actresses, and the way that she shines in a comedy is further indication of this. She brings a soul to characters that otherwise would be a walking breast joke, and that is a strange and admirable sort of alchemy to pull off. Catherine Keener also deserves every bit of the kudos she has received. She is shallow and bitter and nasty, yet we see what draws Craig to her like a moth to a flame. The moment where she turns and indicates the window... well, it's a great comic moment and it works because she has sunk so deeply into her role.

Then there are the men. Cusack is often relied upon to carry the movie, and he often does it very well, but here he is allowed to relax and wallow in the adsurdities of the rest of the film and he is excellent. When I think of this film, I do not even think of it as a John Cusack movie, and I LOVE Cusack. That right there illustrates how good this film is.

And then there is Malkovich. He takes his role to unparalleled heights of self parody, playing his role with a delicious appreciation of irony. In a year of LOTS of Best Supporting Actor worthy performances, his at least deserves a big mention.

The direction by first time feature director Spike Jonze is also worthy of acclaim. He directs the film in a straightforward fashion that underscores everything beautifully. The pacing, the editing, the use of color and light... all of them are perfect. And the script by Charlie Kaufman was ROBBED of an Oscar. I loved "American Beauty", but this was more tightly scripted, and done so with the panache that only the sharpest of lunatics can achieve. It works in subtle points about our need to control the world around us (and our often complete inability to do so), our desire to be someone else, our need to be loved, and the way that sex can be used as the worst of weapons.

And it's hilarious!

From the Seven and a half floor orientation film to the somewhat tragic ending and including everything in between, this is a brilliant film, elevating comedy to the level of genius.