Film Commentary [11-30-99]
Surrealistic Puppeteering - - Being John Malkovich
Genre: Comedy Grade: A

First, this is one of the most original and bizarre films I have seen in years. The film opens with a a puppet show of angst performed by Craig Schwartz (John Cosack) not to an audience, but alone in his workshop. The puppet has his face. Schwartz is an unemployed professional puppeteer. It is his art form, one which he enacts on street corners because "Nobody's looking for a puppeteer in today's wintry economic climate." He lives with his wife and pet shop-owner Lotte (Cameron Diaz), her chimpanzee and an assorted menagerie of other wildlife.

Lotte suggests that since he is unable to find work as a puppeteer, perhaps he should get a regular day-job. After being punched out for performing the puppet version of a medieval romance where the hero eventually gets castrated, he finds a want-ad for a person with fast hands. This leads to his interview and job as a file clerk with a company that resides on the 7½th floor of an office building. Since the floor is sandwiched between the 7th and 8th floors, the ceiling is only 5 feet up. Everyone is required to stoop down as they walk through the halls and offices. However, since the elevator doesn't have a 7½th floor button, those wishing to reach the floor must, with careful timing, hit the stop button between the two doors and then wedge the doors open with a crowbar.

At the first day orientation, Craig meets Maxine (Catherine Keener) with whom he instantly becomes infatuated. Maxine is a worldly, obnoxious and insulting. She easily shoots down his every attempt to get close and actually laughs in his face when he tells her he is a puppeteer.

One day Craig discovers a small door behind the file cabinet in his office. Curious to find out where it leads, he discovers that it sucks you into the mind of actor John Malkovich. After spending fifteen minutes looking through Malkovich’s eyes as he reads the Wall Street Journal and eats toast, Craig is ejected into ditch off the New Jersey Turnpike. Rushing back to Maxine and telling her about it, she decides that this is an excellent way to make a lot of money. At first Craig objects, proclaiming "Do you know what a metaphysical can of worms this portal is?" He eventually agrees to the plan and they open up the portal to paying customers at $200 a shot. Lotte’s experience with the portal is more profound, she discovers that she was never complete before she was in a man’s body and now wants to have a sex change operation. She also discovers that she can suggest that Malkovich do something by willing him to do so. The film becomes even more complex with a wildly imaginative plot and circumstances that simply cannot be described.

Directed by Spike Jones (resently appearing in Three Kings) and written by Charlie Kaufman, this film is certain to become a cult hit that will be remembered for decades. This film is complex and layered with a Gilliam-esque tone to its hysterical humor. Throughout the film the ultimate question is who is really pulling whom’s strings, with Malkovich becoming the ultimate puppet.

The performances were outstanding, particularly John Malkovich portraying himself and the others as they take him over. I simply didn't recognize Cameron Diaz as the mousy Lotte until I saw her name on the credits. The film's first half is incredibly strong, as the writer spues forth more ideas in the fifteen minutes than most movies do during their entire length. However, the first of the second half is a bit tedious and but then springs back. My only other complaint is the directors use of the handheld camera to produce quite a few scenes. I am thoroughly tired of jiggling camera shots. Directors - Stop it now!! It was overdone by MTV in the Eighties.

This film also provides a wide parody of the Hollywood film system identifying the puppeteer with the director and the various relationships of the characters within the Hollywood system (agents, actors etc.). It also is about the ultimate form of escapism - the ability to experience life through the eyes of someone else. Being John Malkovich is well-written, well-acted, and well-directed. This is simply a great film.

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