Being John Malkovich

Movie Review #793: ‘Being John Malkovich’ is wildly inventive. For those who can handle its offbeat genius, it’s also rather extraordinary.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano
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Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Rated R (contains strong sexual content, strong language)
112 minutes

“Being John Malkovich” is one of the craziest, freshest, most bizarre, most ridiculous, most ludicrous, warped-est, maddest, smartest, genius-est, most radical movies I have ever in my life seen. It was released 1999, and it’s pretty much a wake-up call for anyone who found 1998’s “The Truman Show” to be a dynamically inventive fantasy movie, for better or for worse. That was a movie about a guy who is being watched on reality TV for his whole life and doesn’t even know it. In comparison to “Being John Malkovich”, there’s nothing remotely bizarre about such a story. What we experience here is like “The Truman Show” with cannibis and a 200 IQ. It’s a heavily involved, risky, warped, and terrifically smart story that’s always ahead of its viewer.

“Being John Malkovich” is easy to narrow down to a few sentences, but doing so does not offer all the complexities the movie itself does. I’ll leave all that fun for you to figure out in your own experience with the movie. Our hero is a puppeteer, played by John Cusack, who is married to a pet-obsessed woman named Lotte (Cameron Diaz, who is honest-to-god unrecognizable as this character), but in love with a co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener). He works on Floor 7 1/2 of his building. Getting there requires punching the “STOP” button on the elevator when it is in between the seventh and eighth floors. In his office, he discovers a portal that takes him inside the mind of John Malkovich (who is played by the actor John Malkovich himself) for fifteen whole minutes, after which they land on the New Jersey Turnpike and Malkovich returns to having a mind of his own. He decides that this could be a profitable market. So he and Maxine decide to sell trips into the mind of Malkovich at $200 for 15 minutes. Their customers are plentiful, and things are going great, until Malkovich decides he wants to go inside his own mind.

The movie is hilarious, and the scene in which Malkovich enters his own mind is probably the epitome of this comedy. I’ll refrain from spoiling that scene, too. Much like the great speedboat scene at the end of “Some Like It Hot”, or the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” duet in “Young Frankenstein”, it’s comedy that must be seen to be believed. In fact, the scene doesn’t work standing alone; it’s the way the movie feeds its concept into the scene that makes it work.

“Being John Malkovich” was Charlie Kaufman’s first filmed screenplay, and as far as I’m concerned, this movie is immediate proof that Kaufman is the greatest screenwriter of the twenty-first century. Every one of his movies that I’ve seen has introduced paradox upon paradox, and yet succeeds to make sense. While “Being John Malkovich” falls apart during the last fifteen minutes, I feel that hardly matters under the premise that a) it actually made perfect sense at any point beforehand, and b) it was still entertaining, as I was trying to put together the puzzle that it had become during its finishing act. Spike Jonze may have directed “Being John Malkovich”, but in actuality, it’s the script that gives the movie its awe-inspiring style. While Jonze has proven to be a great director, particularly with his recent masterpiece “Her”, it’s more than acceptable than Kaufman is the real director here, because the concept he’s created earns an ornate and exhilarating presentation in “Being John Malkovich”. ✴

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