The puppeteer's working as a file clerk on the seventh-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan office building; this idea alone might serve as the comedic basis for an entire film, but Jonze and Kaufman are just getting started. Add a devious coworker (Catherine Keener), Cusack's dowdy wife (a barely recognizable Cameron Diaz), and a business scheme to capitalize on the thrill of being John Malkovich, and you've got a movie that just gets crazier as it plays by its own outrageous rules. Malkovich himself is the film's pièce de résistance, riffing on his own persona with obvious delight and--when he enters his own brain via the portal--appearing with multiple versions of himself in a tour-de-force use of digital trickery. Does it add up to much? Not really. But for 112 liberating minutes, Being John Malkovich is a wild place to visit. --Jeff Shannon
Four fantastic performances are given by John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and Malkovich himself, and they are guided by Spike Jonze' direction and Mr. Kaufman's screenplay.
Cusack is a gifted, tortured, starving artist, and not just any artist, but a puppeteer - working with marionettes. The film opens with a marionette performance so poignant it seems neary human - the performance reminds me of the opening of "White Nights" in which Baryshnikov dances "Le Jeune Homme Et La Mort". In White Nights it takes a moment before you recognize that you are watching a performance of a ballet, and in this film the marionette is so life-like it doesn't require much suspension of disbelief to think the puppet alive. In another similarity between the two films later on a human-sized marionette is made to "dance" the lead role in "Swan Lake" surrounded by human ballerinas. The rest of this film is SO startlingly original that it's easy to overlook the fact that the movie has some REALLY skilled puppeteering in it.
But I digress. Puppeteering doesn't pay Cusack well, so there are money arguments between John and wife Cameron Diaz, who looks like a cross between a street person and a washer-woman here. She works in a pet store and keeps a collection of animals including a dog, ferret, bird and chimpanzee - all apparently with some form of veterinary post-traumatic stress disorder. Diaz' Lotte is the kind of person who forms close emotional ties with animals but has more difficulty being intimate with other humans.Read more ›
I can't imagine John Malkovich's face when he was approached with this screenplay. I can't believe anyone in his right mind wouldn't run the other way when presented with even the most basic premise for this film. But then again, at least in the movie, Malkovich is anything but in his right mind. Heck, for most of the film, he isn't even IN his mind. Creepy, huh? Creepy doesn't even begin to cover it. But I highly recommend it. Just be warned not to drive or operate heavy machinery after seeing it.
This movie is best watched late at night. Most of the scenes are in fact shot at nighttime, adding positively to the surreal effect of the story. Cusack, Diaz, and Malkovich turn in wonderful performances. Catherine Keener is suitably hateable as the selfish Maxine.
This movie encourages you to look deep beneath the surface of a person. It is also good for some serious out-loud laughs.