I have to say, as I sit down to type this, I don’t know what my rating will be. I can say that people should all go see this movie, because it will be discussion fodder for months to come if not longer; but it is definitely a weird movie. And I didn’t think Brazil was all that weird. An amusing tidbit to start the review off: The screenwriter(s) had always intended that the role of John Malkovich would be played by a lookalike, as it’s not entirely flattering to the esteemed (and weird) actor; however, it crossed his desk and he was keen to play himself – I think his distinct face and mannerisms would never have been so needed as they are in this movie.
Watching the movie, I was pretty frequently making an amazed, “this is so weird” face – all kinds of wonderful random things (as if Terry Gilliam had a hand in it) that had nothing to do with the actual storyline were present – not needed but certainly appreciated. The puppet work in this movie is pretty fricking incredible too – both the resemblance of the puppets to the actors and also the actual puppet work. Music by Carter Burwell which means I will run out and get it – but it was decidedly back to what I expect from Burwell and not that flat pabulum he pumped out for some movie recently, what was that…? Anyway, nice atmosphere, good production design. If you don’t like randomness, and people just suddenly behaving a certain way without much or any provocation, you will HATE this movie. Often times I get frustrated when a movie does that, thinking it’s gimmicky – but somehow the whole gimmicky aspect of Being John Malkovich made it…more okay.
Realism is not so much important as consistency – if the writers and directors create a world with these rules (for example, the rule that Kryptonians can fly and Earthlings cannot), and stick to the rules, then I will suspend any level of disbelief they put me at, as I am supposed to. The thing about this is, this world has no rules. So none can be broken? Whatever it is, you shouldn’t watch this movie demanding logic and perspective – and it may rankle you how off kilter it is. The only thing that bothered me was a central relationship pivot point and the shaky, hand held camera work at times that just seemed like shoddy camera work and not mood. But I laughed a lot! My companion laughed as much if not more. I was interested, fascinated, never bored, never alienated (but almost!) and definitely not viscerally involved. I was intellectually interested but I came out of movie-watching mode and just thought about the experience of being in the movie, or writing or reading the screenplay. This should not occur in an ideal film. I was sucked in, but no more involved than watching with the rapt attention of an entomologist watching beetles mating. Interestingly, that is the same amount of involvement some of the characters have when they Are John Malkovich.
Go in with few expectations, an open mind, and don’t read up on the story too much if you can help it. John Cusack fans, he’s wonderful as always but it’s not a big drool fest like Grosse Pointe Blank. Cameron Diaz fans – same for you! Catherine Keener finally gets in a higher profile movie – I’m sorry to say this is not her best work, but do check out her oeuvre, especially Walking and Talking and Living in Oblivion! Malkovich (whom some think is sexy) is really actually very interesting in this movie. I can’t go into more detail but really, his whole take on himself is quite amusing, from a remote point of view as well as an involved one. Go see it! It deserves to be seen – but you might not love it.
MPAA Rating R for language and sexuality.
Release date 10/29/99
Time in minutes 112
Director Spike Jonze
Studio USA Films