Full of surprises, the screenplay is as funny as it is clever, and the plot is as intriguing and offbeat as it is difficult to describe in just a few sentences.
Craig Schwartz (Cusack) is a puppeteer nearing the end of his string. New York City has little use, or tolerance, for his special talents.
His ten-year marriage to Lotte (Diaz), a workaholic pet store employee who literally brings her work home with her, has become habitual at best.
With no prospects, the nimble-fingered Craig takes a job as a filing clerk and meets the beautiful Maxine (Keener).
For Craig, it's obsession at first sight but for Maxine, it's definitely no-go.
He retreats into his office to file and, in a moment of frustration, he slams the drawer, causing a folder to fall behind the cabinet.
Upon moving the cabinet, Craig uncovers a passageway that is, in fact, a portal to the brain of the famous actor, John Malkovich!
This is merely the background presented in the film's first half-hour. Being John Malkovich ventures into much deeper and stranger territory.
Unlike most comedies, which go for laughs without worrying about depth, Being John Malkovich has both.
The film raises questions about the nature of identity, and how some people are only completely free when their real self is hidden behind a mask or beneath a costume.
With Craig as a puppet-master and Maxine playing him like a musical instrument, issues of manipulation also rise to the surface.
The cast is fantastic and Malkovich himself is part of the magic. He is not playing himself here, but an exaggerated version of his public image.
Somehow, Jonze and Kaufman (the writer) blend all of these disparate elements together without missing a beat. This is, undoubtedly, a triumphant debut for Spike Jonze.