Describing the plot of Being John Malkovich beyond a rough outline is a waste of time.
In the case of most films the two or three paragraphs on the reverse of the DVD cover are enough to give you a fair idea of what the film is about, based upon your own tastes you should then be able to get a fair handle on whether it is for you or not.
With Being John Malkovich that simply won’t do. It needs to be seen before you can be sure – perhaps twice.
After saying that I’ll try a little: Craig Schwarz (John Cusack) is a struggling yet talented puppeteer in a world hardly crying out for them, his wife Lottie (Cameron Diaz) works in a pet store and seems to take much of her work with her to the menagerie that is their home.
To pay the bills Craig applies for a filing job (‘must have fast hands’) on the 7 ½th floor at a company called Lestercorp where the 105 year old CEO thinks he has a speech impediment because his personal assistant can’t understand what he is saying and Craig works with a cocky self confident woman named Maxine (Catherine Keener), who he becomes absolutely besotted by.
It is here that Craig finds the door that leads to a portal into John Malkovich’s mind behind the filing cabinet for 10 minutes before dumping you near a freeway onramp in New Joisy.
Isn’t it always behind the filing cabinet?
By now you are rolling your eyes or thinking ‘that might be the most bizarre plot I’ve ever heard’. You’re probably right on both counts, but it is also one of the more brilliant, genre blurring and ambitious quasi mainstream films in the last century… which I guess is in film history.
The film is filled with abstract and just plain oddball touches – not the least of which is best describes by two words: monkey flashback – the main characters take turns lusting after each other and the non-Malkovich’s are all changed by their experience inhabiting him.
It all seems so… right, when a concerned Malkovich looks around desperately for someone to approach for advice and seeks the consul of one Charlie Sheen playing Charlie Sheen. (Who thinks that a woman calling him Lottie during the heights of ecstasy ‘hot’. Of course he does.)
Both Cusack and Diaz – especially Diaz actually – have never looked less ‘Movie Star’ with their unkempt and unruly hairdos and *GASP* blemishes. Malkovich is obviously playing himself, and he seems to relish taking potshots at the everyday humdrum of his own everyday existence and of being constantly nearly recognised. Keener is unexpectedly sassy and bitchy, it seems she is either used to getting her way or has decided that she doesn’t care what others think of her, and as always is the case those guys n gals that treat others like spam somehow manage to find themselves adored and fawned over by the very people they lord over so undeservedly.
Thankfully they don’t bother with the formal event scene that demands everyone (Read: Diaz) gets done up to prove that they/she really can be hot in real life.
But I don’t think Director Spike Jonze is even vaguely interested in doing Hollywood mainstream pleasing pap. It is far more enjoyable for him to indulge in a scene where Malkovich enters his own mind through the door and encounters a whole society of men women and – bleh – creepy children all sporting his round bald dignified visage and saying his surname in lieu of normal speech. And if that hasn’t either compelled you to either look this film up or steer well clear of it then I haven’t done my job at all.
Final Rating – 8.5 / 10. Napoleon Dynamite and Will Ferrel have managed to turn quirkiness into profit (and undeserved millions). ‘Quirk’ needn’t be try-hard or oddball, sometimes it is borderline genius. Being John Malkovich isn’t easily digestible, but it is one of the rare films that can truly claim to be totally unique and more than a mere oddity.