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Being John Malkovich
1999 - R - 112 Mins.
Director: Spike Jonze
Producer: Sandy Stern, Michael Stipe, Steve Golin, Vincent Landay
Written By: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Charlie Sheen, John Malkovich
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Some films released nowadays strive to be essentially original and in no way interesting. While "Being John Malkovich" is both original and interesting – to a certain degree – it is in no way a great movie.

John Cusack plays a puppeteer named Craig, whom is married to a frizzle-haired woman named Lotte (Cameron Diaz). They live in a small apartment with exotic animals, including iguanas, parrots, and a chimp named Elijah, which has a repressed mental problem.

Cusack's character gets a job in the classifieds as filer for a company with small overhead. (Literally!) He lusts after a fellow worker, named Maxine (Catherine Keener), but she ignores him.

One day while he's working, a file drops behind a cabinet and when he goes to retrieve it, he finds a small door leading into a dark vessel. (Much like the rabbit hole in "Alice in Wonderland.")

After crawling through the hole-in-the-wall, Craig finds that it leads into John Malkovich's head. Yes, that's right, John Malkovich's head. Anyone who enters can see out of Malkovich's head for fifteen minutes…and maybe longer.

After telling Lotte and his fellow associate Maxine about his wonderful and exuberating experience, Craig is lured into opening a small business centered entirely on the hole in the wall, and soon people from all over are entering John Malkovich's head for a large fee.

But pretty soon, chaos ensues, and Diaz's character is entering Malkovich's head so she can be with other women. And as all this happens, Malkovich begins to suspect that something is going on – he is losing control over his own body. But why – and how?

The film really has no sense of reality. It starts out with an odd feeling, but it is enjoyable. Everything is symbolic, and the surroundings bring out emotions in the characters. It’s a bit like the beginning of "Joe versus the Volcano," where Hanks practically lives in that stuffy office. Remember how dark and dank the office was? That’s what John Cusack’s office in the film is like – everyone must crouch over as to not hit the ceiling. But much like "Joe versus the Volcano," the movie begins to withdraw itself into just plain crazy. Nothing makes sense at all, and the film starts to achieve a sick sense of reality. (Diaz turns into a lesbian, for one thing, and the film treats it like it is normal.)

For example, when Diaz is having an affair with Keener, and Cusack’s character knows about it, he doesn’t seem to care a whole lot about the fact that his wife is cheating on him. It just doesn’t make sense, really.

But I’ll give the film the fact that it is strangely original and startlingly provocative. I mean, really, who ever thought about making a film where someone enters John Malkovich’s head? And what about all the stuff later in the film? It is more than original – it is just plain…weird!

John Cusack does a great job as Craig. He looks like a sixties hippy with his long, greasy hair and geeky countenance.

Cameron Diaz is completely dissolved in her character. She looks so ugly and different in this film that you think, is that REALLY her?

Catherine Keener, who was just in “S1m0ne” with Al Pacino, definitely got her career kick-started out of this film. I don’t recall seeing her in many things before this movie.

And John Malkovich is…well…John Malkovich.

Director Spike Jonze does a good thing with the idea he is given, and the film uses so many ideas that they could fill at least ten movies themselves. Unfortunately, because of the way the film turns out to be, I didn’t enjoy it that much.

Maybe I didn’t love it because I expected so much, and because it lost me half way through. I followed it in the beginning, and understood how everything was symbolic, but after the halfway point the film starts to not really make any sense and just gets weird. In one scene we see some individuals running through Malkovich’s subconscious – what a weird scene!

You know those dreams that you have sometimes – the kind of dreams that make absolutely no sense at all? But while you’re having the dream, everything seems normal? That’s what “Being John Malkovich” is – one of those weird dreams that make no sense but seem like they make perfect sense while you’re dreaming them. Almost.

Unfortunately, while the filmmakers treated the film like it made absolute sense while filming it, the audience can tell it doesn’t make sense while they watch it – it is such that the audience is a bystander of the filmmakers’ dream.

The director and actors of "Being John Malkovich" are having this dream, and to them it makes sense, but to the audience, it doesn’t, because we are watching the dream from the outside - and that is perhaps the biggest fault of the film.

But it is, nevertheless, one of the strangest movies I have ever seen, and I have to give it some kind of credit for that. To not do so would be ignorant.

 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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