Volume 93, Issue 47

Tuesday, November 23, 1999


The World more than enough

To be or not to be John Malkovich

Melanie Doane gets on with it

Moshpit just falls all over itself

To be or not to be John Malkovich

Photo by Melissa Moseley
ONE DAY WHEN I GET THE MONEY, I'LL BUILD A REALDOLL TO SCALE. John Cusack stars in Spike Jonze's whacked-out fairy tale, Being John Malkovich.

By Chris Theijsmeijer
Gazette Staff

If anything, Being John Malkovich has to be the most original movie you'll see this year. This film doesn't just break new ground – it comes from a whole different universe.

What would it be like to get inside someone else's mind? To see as they see and feel as they feel? This is the whole premise behind Being John Malkovich, as director Spike Jonze explores what it means to be human and an individual, through various shades of human depravity.

The story is twisted enough to speak for itself. Struggling puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) takes a job as a filing clerk on the seventh and half floor of an old New York building. Yes, a half of a floor, complete with low ceilings, forcing the crouching workers to crowbar the elevator doors open to get there.

Through a small hidden door in his office, Schwartz discovers a tunnel allowing him to enter the body of John Malkovich. He can see, feel and even sometimes control Malkovich's body. It's a puppeteer's dream. After a short time experiencing Malkovich, he's spit out by the system to inexplicably land by a New Jersey turnpike.

He shares the secret with his sexy co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) who wants to set up a business selling tickets to anyone who wants to try it. Schwartz also tells his wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who insists on trying it herself. Lotte falls in love with being Malkovich and discovers she's a transsexual. Adding to the confusion, Maxine asks the real John Malkovich out on a date, during which she senses Lotte's presence in his body and falls deeply in love with the dual person.

If things aren't twisted enough yet, don't worry. Desperate for Maxine, Craig ties up Lotte and gallivants with Maxine in Malkovich's body. Craig then gains complete control over Malkovich, marries Maxine and uses Malkovich's fame to launch his career as a puppeteer. Eventually, the charade becomes too much and the story twists around again for the final climax.

Cusack, Diaz, Keener and Malkovich all give remarkable performances and proves their skills through such extreme characters – especially Malkovich, who has to jump between playing himself and being a "puppet," sometimes even in mid-scene.

Charlie Sheen, playing himself, makes a surprise appearance as Malkovich's friend and confidant. Sean Penn and Brad Pitt also make cameo appearances.

Unfortunately, Spike Jonze's direction is a bit of a letdown after Three Kings, as there are no truly innovative artistic moments. But the film is effective in its simplicity, allowing the audience undisturbed continuity and adding a sense of reality to the disorienting plot. An example of this is the chase scene through Malkovich's unconscious, a seemingly complex idea presented in a easily grasped manner.

In such a deranged story, it must have been tempting to go overboard with special effects, but thankfully Jonze has held back from making the movie resemble science fiction. A realistic pretense blankets the film and adds a disturbingly creepy atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the script is not continuously engaging and lags at times. The conflict and protagonist are not clearly defined, leaving the viewer slightly unsatisfied in the end. In fact, viewers will probably be left trying to figure out what the heck they just saw while the credits roll.

Being John Malkovich is highly innovative and thankfully simple, allowing the story's charm to dominate. The attraction to this film is kind of like the attraction to circus freak shows – they're both repulsive and engaging at the same time.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999