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IN SHORT: A great film. Like nothing you've ever seen, or even conceived in your wildest film fantasy dreams. . . [Rated [R], 112 minutes]
Unless you dream of Cameron Diaz as a plain Jane, frizzy haired brunette who is bound, gagged and locked in a cage with a diaper wearing, psychologically damaged chimpanzee named Elijah while her puppeteer husband inhabits John Malkovich's head as said actor has sex with said husband's business partner and lust object. . .
Way beyond anything conceivable, right? Once again the pairing of a first time screen writer (Charlie Kaufman) and first time big screen director (Spike Jonze) have floored this critic. Being John Malkovich works so brilliantly that every outlandish gag or situation makes perfect sense. The hard part for me is figuring out how much to tell you without a) spilling too much and b) sounding like I'm out of my mind for recommending something that sounds insane.
From the opening titles, in which you see puppets manipulated in ways that are physically beautiful and poetic, to the matter of fact introduction of a building with a 7½th floor and beyond, almost every scene in Being John Malkovich pushes the envelope in how it tells its story. Jonze, best known as a video director, doesn't let his vid chops get in the way of telling the story. Kaufman manages story elements that are so disparate that you never figure out how they relate to each other until it's too late.
We start with puppeteer Craig "not based even remotely on anyone in Cranky's birth family <g>" Schwartz (John Cusack), who demonstrates notable chops with his string-ed creations. Problem is, his puppet plays use themes that are classic and very adult and, well, parents are more likely to pop him one in the mouth than put coins in his beggars bucket. The breadwinning part of this basement apartment inhabiting pair is Lottie (Cameron Diaz) who works in a pet shop and provides tender loving care to the wounded, traumatized and otherwise deficient animals she brings home. Needing cold hard cash, Craig takes a job as a file clerk in the LesterCorp office on the 7½th floor of Manhattan's Mertin-Flemmer office building.
There's a very funny joke hidden in that last piece sentence, made even funnier in the film as Kaufman's script makes no effort to milk it for all it is worth. Most of the jokes and absurdities in Being John Malkovich are laid out in a matter of fact style that, if you go with the proverbial flow, you'll find yourself sucked into the hilarity of it all.
That needs more explanation: One day at work, Craig drops a file behind some cabinets. After moving them, he discovers a boarded up doorway in the wall, with a tunnel on the other side of it. The tunnel, gooey messy thing that it is, transports Craig into the mind of John Malkovich, actor, 2 time Academy Award nominee and so on and so forth. After about fifteen minutes of FirstPersonPOV, Craig gets ejected from Malk and dumped on the side of a highway in New Jersey.
Lust Object Maxine (Catherine Keener), who is attractive to both men and women and knows it, also works on 7½. Craig, smitten, reveals the existence of the "portal". Maxine writes up a business plan, getting real folks to pay $200 a pop for the opportunity to experience life from the first person point of view of Malkovich. The money comes rolling in. Maxine also seduces the real victim, Malkovich who, when he gets wind of the scheme, goes headfirst down the tunnel. What John Malkovich sees while "being" John Malkovitch is so blisteringly funny that . . . well, that's all you need to know. The movie still has an hour to go, with a pair of love triangles yet to come. It gets better all the way to the end.
Outstanding in supporting roles are Mary Kay Place as LesterCorp's receptionist, who suffers from what can only be called dyslexia of the ear and Orson Bean as her horny as hell, 105 year old boss. [The first words out of Bean's mouth when he sat for CrankyCritic® StarTalk were "betcha thought I was dead!"].
The next time Barry Diller buys a down on its luck company, Cranky's gonna buy stock. USA Films hasn't had a major dud yet, and it's getting so bad their publicists are laughing at me when I come calling, saying "You're not so Cranky!" I hate that . . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Being John Malkovich, he would have paid...
Oscar nomination level. Yeah, you'll be seeing this level as we get closer and closer to statue time. We rarely see one film a year that sets a new high mark or, to use a cliche, breaks the mold. Being John Malkovich is the second of this year. Unlike Run Lola Run, no subtitles are required.
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