Charlie Kaufman may be both the most original screenwriting talent to emerge in the past ten years and the most exasperating. He inspires fervent loyalty among some film buffs because his ideas are playful and heady; they don’t start out or play out like anyone else’s, and at their best they can liberate actors’ most inventive impulses.
The airiest example so far has been Adaptation. In that film, under Spike Jonze’s direction, a gifted cast brought a vaudevillian bravado to Kaufman’s comic essay on the problems of adapting a quirky work of nonfiction (Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief) to film. Adaptation lets you down in the last third, when Kaufman shifts gears and his alter ego’s alter ego—the “Charlie Kaufman” character’s fictitious brother Donald—takes over the movie and the script becomes a parody of the kind of Hollywood pap Donald wants to write.