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Being John Malkovich (1999)
Director: Spike Jonze

review by Patrick Hudson

Frustrated puppeteer Craig Schwatz (John Cusack) gets a job doing freelance filing, because his fingers are so nimble they can file extra fast. While working on the seventh-and-a-half floor of his building, he discovers a tiny doorway that leads into the consciousness of John Malkovich. Go through that door, and you can spend ten minutes inside the actor's head before being ejected into a ditch beside the New Jersey turnpike. He and co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener), who Schwartz lusts after, set up a little after-hours earner selling tickets to the show. Schwatz's wife Lotte (an unrecognisable Cameron Diaz) and Maxine begin a strange love affair where they can only consummate their love when Lotte is inside Malokvich. Eventually Malkovich finds out and ends up going through the door himself.
   This is not the end for this masterfully surreal film. First-time director Spike Jonze comes from the world of advertising and music video, but shuns the sort of tricksy manipulative techniques of commercial film. This proves a wise move, as the sheer weirdness of the story is counterpointed by Jonze's naturalistic approach. Performances are consistently excellent, particularly Diaz playing magnificently against type as the frumpy Lotte, and Malkovich himself, having a lot of fun sending himself up as John Horatio Malkovitch.
   Being John Malkovich pushes all the right buttons. It's funny, it's clever, it's a love story and a meditation on what it means to be an individual. It makes deep and powerful points with the lightest of touches, never slipping into dogmatism or stridency while maintaining its wit, charm and excitement. This film is funny and clever in the most deliciously unhinged way. The whole idea is patently daft, the characters demented but the whole thing is treated with a deadpan seriousness similar to Bunuel, Woody Allen or the best of Monty Python. Fans of celebrity cameos will have a particularly enjoyable evening.
previously published in VideoVista #18
Being John Malkovich
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