Being John Malkovich
By Heather Boerner,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Kids won't get this sex-driven, head-trip comedy.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Most of the characters are selfish and amoral. Maxine and Craig sell trips to John Malkovich's brain. Craig terrorizes his wife.
Violence & Scariness
A man punches Craig for his sexually explicit puppet show. Lots of falling to the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. Craig imprisons Lotte in the chimp cage and holds a gun to her head, forcing her to lie.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's lots of sexual discussion, sexual behavior, and sex talk. Craig has his puppets talk about their sexual thoughts and simulate masturbation. Lotte and Craig, who are married to one another, both lust after Maxine, and both have sex with her through John Malkovich. There are scenes of Malkovich and Maxine having sex, though she's never completely naked. John kisses Maxine's naked thighs. Lotte talks about being a man trapped in a woman's body and in the end has a lesbian relationship with Maxine.
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Lots of salty language, including "bastard," "motherf--ker," "bulls--t," "spunk," "tits," "f--k," "s--t," "asshole," and "suck my dick." People are also called names like "fag" and "retard."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Craig, Maxine, and John Malkovich all drink alcohol at different points. Maxine smokes cigarettes. Lotte talks about smoking pot and Maxine rolls a joint, though she doesn't light it. John Malkovich talks about being stoned.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that teens may be interested in this comedy because it stars Cameron Diaz, and Catherine Keener from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but they won't get the offbeat, adult humor and storyline. Also, the film is explicit about sex, sexual behavior, and infidelity. John and Maxine have sex several times and you can hear characters reaching climax, though no one is naked. Maxine calls Craig a "fag," and belittles his sexuality. Craig kidnaps, cages, and terrorizes his wife when she falls in love with Maxine. There's discussion of homosexuality and of transexuality.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a self-centered, struggling puppeteer who prefers his love unrequited and his self-worth to come from public acclaim. When his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) urges him to get a job, Craig becomes a file clerk on the 7 1/2 floor of a building with a special feature: a portal into the brain and life of John Malkovich. See him ordering towels, reading the Wall Street Journal, going to a playhouse, having sex. It's all better, it seems through Malkovich's eyes. When Craig reveals the portal to conniving coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), she uses his attraction for him to convince him to rent the portal out. When Lotte tries the portal, she realizes that she might be attracted to women, and Maxine in particular. But as Maxine, Craig, and Lotte get sucked further into the rabbit hole of being John Malkovich, their relationships and lives start to unravel.
Is It Any Good?
Dude, here's a head trip for you: Being John Malkovich, like The Big Lebowski, is like taking a wild ride through a surreal world. Unlike Lebowski, Malkovich is expressly not about being yourself and getting your rug back, man. It's about the joy of being someone else -- someone famous and therefore better.
The characters are unabashedly narcissistic and borderline sociopaths. Craig, for instance, creates a puppet of himself and choreographs him having a meltdown. The fun is in watching them do completely unbelievable things. And there's no need for sympathy for the characters -- it's about watching the train wreck that ensues and enjoying all the bizarre and funny lines in the truly inventive script. Of course it's weird. That's what's so fun. Don't think, just watch it and enjoy.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what celebrities they'd like to be and why. Do you think being someone famous would give you the rush it gives the people who go inside John Malkovich's brain? It's a good opportunity to talk about the cult of celebrity and how it makes us feel bad about ourselves in order to sell us more things.
- In theaters: June 6, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: November 5, 2002
- Cast: Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Cusack, John Malkovich
- Director: Spike Jonze
- Inclusion Information: Latinx actors, Middle Eastern/North African actors
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and sexuality.
- Last updated: February 23, 2023
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