Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a puppeteer whom the world shuns, and whose marriage to Lotte (Cameron Diaz) has become rather dull – even the chimp and the dog and the bird and the other animals Lotte the petshop employee brings home fail to lift life above survival levels. Lotte urges him to get a job; he does, in a strange filing company on a 'half way between floors' of a large building, where he meets the enigmatic and lustable but unavailable (to him) Maxine (Catherine Keener) and also discovers a secret door that whisks him inside the brain of famous actor John Malkovich. Things take a bit of a turn for Craig now, and with Maxine's help, he turns the 'portal' to Malkovich into a business. But that's just the start of it.
 

5
A refreshing and intelligent idea for a film.

Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a puppeteer – but not a very successful one. Seeking work to support his animal-obsessed wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), he lands a job as a filing clerk in a mysterious business located between the 7th and 8th floors of a New York office building. Soon he's attracted to a glamorous fellow-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) – and then, behind a filing cabinet, Craig discovers a door which leads to a tunnel – and he's instantly zapped into the head of actor John Malkovich.

a dizzily inventive creation

This incredibly fresh, original comedy is the work of a pair of very talented first-timers – writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze. Between them, they've created an outrageously funny concept which gets more intriguing and mind blowing as it proceeds – it's refreshing because it's so fiercely intelligent in what it has to say about sexual manipulation, power games, pulling the strings of someone else's life. To tell you more would be to spoil the fun – it's a mad idea for a film, and John Malkovich is very game to have participated – he's perfect playing himself, or perhaps a variation on himself - Charlie Sheen's funny too. Jonze has boldly cast his very talented actresses against type, with the usually unglamorous Keener as the sexpot and the usually radiant Diaz as the dowdy wife. And John Cusack proves once again what a very fine actor he is. Try and see this savagely bold, gender-crossing comedy before you find out too much more about it. I think it's the best film I've seen this year.

Margaret's comments:
This is a dizzily inventive creation, firstly from debut screenwriter Charlie Kaufman – who surely must have been hallucinating when he wrote this film – and from first-time feature director Spike Jonze. They are endlessly inventive as they have a ball exploring issues of gender, identity and of addiction. Cameron Diaz is almost unrecognisable in her role as the 'eccentric little wife' who finds a zany freedom through her husband's discovery, Catherine Keener sizzles on screen and John Cusack just does his usual brilliant turn as the instigator of the mayhem. But what price John Malkovich agreeing to be part of this demented project? Wise decision. Because he's protected and exposed in very satisfying ways. It's not often you see something as original and entertaining as this on the big screen, you just have to be grateful that such films have the possibility of existing.

 

Watch 'Being John Malkovich'

Tuesday 9 June, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies

MA15+
USA, 1999
Genre: Comedy, Sci-Fi
Language: English
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Charlie Sheen
What's it about?
Craig Schwartz (Cusack) is a struggling street puppeteer. In order to make some money, Craig takes a job as a filing clerk. One day he accidentally discovers a door, containing a portal into the mind of character actor John Malkovich (played by Malkovich himself). For 15 minutes, he experiences the ultimate head trip - He is John Malkovich. With his beautiful office mate Maxine (Keener) and his pet-obsessed wife (Diaz), they hatch a plan to let others into John's brain for just $200 a trip. Critically acclaimed for its originality, the film also earned nominations for Jonze and Kaufman (making their feature-film debuts as director and screenwriter, respectively).

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