Charlie Kaufman has often been described as a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. The legend goes that there are twelve different stories in every film in Hollywood, and with his debut script Being John Malkovich, Kaufman wrote the thirteenth, and there’re so many ideas in Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that they probably count for numbers fourteen through twenty, and fortunately they’re all on the List. So after working on so many inspiring and imaginative modern classics, Kaufman’s directorial debut is a disappointingly convoluted tangle, as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s theatre director Caden Cotard struggles to create a play based on his own life, whilst struggling with a myriad of relationships and a mystery illness.
Whilst the entirety of the plot – also written by Kaufman – is positively brimming with ideas and ingenuity, from Caden seeing himself in cartoons and commercials, to a character living in a perpetually burning house, the lack of clarity between how much takes place in the real world, how much is in the obsessive director’s head and how much is part of the play is at best frustrating and at times infuriating. It doesn’t help that many of the actors look alike, possibly on purpose, with Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Emily Watson all used to play the same character in different levels of life, with the play being featured in the play, requiring Caden to cast himself, casting himself in the play of his own life. Time skips in the blink of an eye for us and for him – his four year old daughter with Catherine Keener’s bohemian artist ages seven years in a matter of days.
You get the feeling that the end result of the film is exactly what Kaufman set out to achieve, with every layer of obsession and confusion being carefully planned and perfectly executed, but when I tried to make some sense of it all, my brain started to run out of my ear.