Next up is Being John Malkovich, a dark comedy directed by Spike Jonze (Her) and written by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It was released in 1999 and has a cult classic feel despite its universal acclaim – it passes muster with 90% on Metacritic and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
We follow Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), a struggling puppeteer who lives with Lotte (Cameron Diaz), his animal adoring wife. He has not got a job and spends his days performing high class puppet shows – alas no Punch and Judy – on the street to uninterested and sometimes angry passers by. That is until Lotte’s gentle persuasion works and the tortured artist gets a filing job after an interview with Lester (Orson Bean), his amusing letch of a boss. Whilst there he finds a door, which turns out to be a portal into John Malkovich – who funnily enough is played by John Malkovich.
The scene is painstakingly set, you are shown Craig’s gloom and dissatisfaction with his lot in life. When given the chance to change things he grabs it with both hands. The build up is very bizarre and too slow, the film really kicks into gear when Craig and his co-worker Maxine start exploiting the portal. This is when it gets intriguing, numerous interests conflict and proceedings take a dark and twisted turn.
Whilst it has comedic moments, the glorious Malkovich heavy restaurant scene, it is not an out and out comedy – it has elements of fantasy and drama. It is only after the hour mark that the slow build up pays off and this dark fusion of genres reels you in, before that it was in danger of getting lost in its own weird little world. Carter Burwell’s entrancing soundtrack helps keep you interested, enhancing the highs and the lows perfectly.
The stand out character and performance is definitely the titular John Malkovich, despite its mind bending nature John plays himself with a tortured and conflicted sense of ease. John Cusack is great as Craig, who is a selfish, unlikable little git – albeit a determined one. Cameron Diaz does a good job as the fuzzy haired Lotte, who gets enveloped by the portal and its possibilities. Maxine, played excellently by Catherine Keener, is the manipulative centre of the film – aloof, controlling and charming.
The slow and bizarre set up threatened to derail it but once it got going Being John Malkovich is a unique and intriguing tale of love and the self that is tinged with tragedy.