The order in which I have experienced Mr. Charlie Kaufman is thus: Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Human Nature, and Adaptation.
I didn't enjoy BJM very much. I don't like John Malkovich, I don't like John Cusak, I don't like Cameron Diaz, and I didn't like the turn the third act of the movie took. Up to that point I was cruising along with it, but then I just didn't dig it. I'd be more specific than that, but you know, I haven't seen the movie since the theater in 199-whatever. I caught Confessions because I like George Clooney despite my best efforts otherwise, and because Sam Rockwell is rad. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and only realized later that Kaufman wrote the screenplay. Eternal Sunshine is one of the best movies I've seen this year. Jim Carey and Kate Winslet worked well as part of an ensemble, but I thought Elijah Wood was working a little too hard--but all the same, the quality of the first act followed through the rest of the film and the little touches, like the book titles disappearing and reappearing during the Barnes & Noble scenes, made me want to see it again to see what I missed. After enjoying it so much I sought out Human Nature, directed by Michael Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine. Human Nature is a little rougher around the edges, but it still holds up well. It was Kaufman's first movie, but it still works well throughout. Once again, there's a superior cast--Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Miranda Otto and Rhys Ifans are all wonderfully strange.
So I decided to check out Adaptation. I avoided it in the theaters because it was Spike Jonez and Kaufman and Nic Cage, and at the time that combination didn't seem too encouraging. But a lot of clever people have recommended it, and with Eternal Sunshine and Human Nature on his side, I thought I should give it a shot. And to be fair to Nic Cage, he and his mustache were wonderful in Raising Arizona.
For the first 2/3rds of the movie, I was in love. The time switches ("Three Years Earlier"), the horrible hair, the repetition, the masturbation, the writing and re-writing, repetition, the reading and note-taking and horrible awkwardness of asking out a waitress and realizing mid-sentence that It's All Going Horribly Wrong, the repetition--it was wonderful. Even the inclusion of the filming of Being John Malkovich was lovely. Well done, Mr. Jonez and Mr. Kaufman! You have most of a wonderful movie on your hands!
And then, yeah, Donald takes over. Yeah, I get it. Kaufman's Hollywood tendencies break through, he gives in to pandering to an audience, I understand all that. I realize it was done on purpose, but that doesn't excuse the fact that the last third of the movie was awful. It was an almost-clever idea that was executed horribly. If it had been done as another dream sequence-slash-fantasy that lasted for a few minutes, that would have been interesting. But it ran away with the rest of the movie, god's sake. I wanted to see the scene where Nic Cage plays Nic Cage talking to someone about playing the role of Charlie & Donald Kaufman! I feel like I've somehow been robbed of seeing the ending of a really swell picture.
Kaufman's next movie is again a pairing with Spike Jonez. Someone should just handcuff the dude to Michael Gondry's wrist, and maybe they'd make more movies together. My oh my.