Being John Malkovich takes us into a playful, upside-down world where the ludicrous is accepted without question and the normal rules of biology and physics don't apply. Frustrated puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is our guide, the perfect straight man. From its premise - that a hidden doorway leads people into John Malkovich's head - to its tidy conclusion, this is a funny, enjoyable and surprisingly sexy film.
Charlie Kaufman's wildly original script grapples with such high-minded issues as love, lust, mortality, celebrity, and identity. Yet anytime we're in danger of taking it too seriously, we're brought back to earth, usually by Maxine (played with casual flair by Catherine Keener), Craig's opportunistic co-worker. "Truth is for suckers, Johnny boy," Maxine tells Malkovich, who plays himself.
Director Spike Jonze intersperses melodrama and humour, reality and the outrageous. A television show highlights Derek Mantini, Craig's nemesis, who "thrilled onlookers" by performing "The Belle of Amherst" with a 60-foot tall Emily Dickinson puppet. Craig's office is on floor 7 1/2, where the ceilings are half-size and everyone walks around bent over.
When Craig and Maxine turn the Malkovich portal - a gooey, humming passageway reminiscent of the birth canal - into a money-making venture, they find no shortage of takers. People may not know what movie Malkovich was in, but they're willing to fork out 200 bucks to gaze out of his eyes while he orders new towels or reads the morning paper.
Jonze contrasts Maxine's lean elegance with the flyaway hair and dumpy clothes of Craig and his dowdy wife Lotte (brilliantly acted by Cameron Diaz). The sounds leap out at you - crunching toast, Malkovich's hand rubbing across his bald head - and remind you of the director's start in music videos. Go ahead, sink into this movie and lose yourself.