USA / 1999
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place
Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a failing street puppeteer married to pet shop owner Lotte (Cameron Diaz). Needing money, he takes a job as a filing clerk with a company on the 7½th floor (don’t ask) of an office block where he accidentally discovers a portal into John Malkovich’s brain where you stay for 15 minutes before being spat out on the New Jersey Turnpike.
He and co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener), after whom he also lusts, set up a business selling the chance to be John Malkovich. But matters get complicated when Lotte and Maxine meet and fall in love – Maxine seduces Malkovich while Lotte’s inside him (and he’s in Maxine) but a jealous Craig manages to take control of Malkovich permanently, marrying Maxine, now pregnant. But Lotte stumbles across the truth behind the portal’s real purpose when she visits Craig’s boss, the ageing Dr Lester (Orson Bean).
A sheer delight from start to finish, completely bizarre yet strangely logical, with not a plot wrinkle in sight, Jonze’s Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning first feature is completed with rounded performances from the four leads, Diaz almost unrecognisably frowsy and Malkovich playing a version of himself the public think they know, slightly distant, quiet, dry witted. Cusack convincingly goes from unworldly to greedy for success, and Keener gets her teeth into the role of a love-hungry, lover-devouring beauty. A totally original film, to rank alongside likes of The Usual Suspects, Memento and Donnie Darko.