Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Being John Malkovich (1999) ****1/2

I had forgotten what a brilliant, hilarious piece of work this is. I remembered the weirdness, the puppeteering, Catherine Keener’s bitchiness, but what grabbed me this second time around is that this movie is hilarious. Hilarious and cool as shit.

John Cusack plays Craig Schwarz, an incredibly talented puppeteer in a world where there just isn’t much demand for that sort of thing. He takes a job as a file clerk for a company located on the 8 & 1/2 floor of a building, a half-sized floor that boasts cheap rent, but forces everyone to walk hunched over. Craig meets and falls pathetically for Maxine (Catherine Keener). He would gladly leave his mousy wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) and her menagerie of pets for Maxine, but she is completely disinterested. That all changes when Craig discovers, behind a file cabinet, a hidden tunnel that leads into the actor John Malkovich’s mind. Anyone who crawls into the tunnel gets to see the world through Malkovich’s eyes for 15 minutes, before being dumped into the grass next to the New Jersey turnpike.

Maxine isn’t any more interested in the scientific or philosophical implications of this tunnel than she is in dating a puppeteer, but she immediately sees the monetary potential in being able to charge people for the opportunity to “be” John Malkovich. While she and Craig rake in the cash, Maxine falls in love with Lotte, but only when Lotte is in Malkovich’s body. Would you believe me if I said it gets even weirder from there?

“Being John Malkovich” is simply a wonderfully funny movie, and a wild ride. It manages to warp the viewer’s sense of reality without resorting to any of the cheap tricks that plague “head trip” movies. It isn’t all a dream, or a hallucination, or somebody’s fantasy. In the best science fiction tradition, the filmmaker creates a bizarre, new, technological possibility, then has interesting, fully realized characters negotiate that possibility. The result is engrossing and hilarious.

4.5 stars out of 5

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