Being John Malkovich Review
By Christopher Owens
Being John Malkovich is director Spike Jonze’s comedic meditation on identity that deserves to be mentioned among the goods (not greats) of its kind.
While never quite rising to the same level of insight as Lynch’s Mulholland Dr or Bergman’s Persona, the film does offer a refreshing respite from the dense psychological complexity of its peers while never coming off as too shallow. In fact, not even a script written by the notoriously grandiloquent Charlie Kaufman can keep this from being the only film in Jonze’s filmography which manages to refrain from entering the realm of the pretentious altogether. The four leads keep the plot grounded through their skilled portrayal of the world’s most four-sided love triangle, with none other than the eponymous man himself taking home the MVP award. Malkovich does an impeccable job cycling through multiple personalities during his time on screen, giving an even better performance here in that aspect than James McAvoy did in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.
Alas, Being John Malkovich is far from perfection, due mostly to its predictability. We all knew from the very moment they met, John Cusack was never going to win over Catherine Keener, and using a baby as a deus ex machina definitely dampened the impact of the final act. The most frustrating part of all, though, is the film’s lack of thematic clarity. Don’t get me wrong, Helen Keller could probably figure out this movie is trying to make some statement about human identity, but I doubt even Jonze or Kaufman could say exactly what that statement is.
With all that said, I find this film more interesting than anything. Being John Malkovich is what happens when two auteurs tackle a faux-heady, Mike Stipe of REM produced romantic comedy with the utmost restraint. Though it didn’t yield a masterpiece, I’m glad it happened all the same.