(US); Rated R; 105 Minutes
Alec Baldwin: Bob Barrenger
Charles Durning: Mayor George Bailey
Clark Gregg: Doug MacKenzie
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Joseph Turner White
Patti LuPone: Sherry Bailey
William H. Macy: Walt Price
Sarah Jessica Parker: Claire Wellesley
David Paymer: Marty Rossen
Rebecca Pidgeon: Ann Black
Julia Stiles: Carla Taylor
Produced by Dorothy Aufiero, Alec Baldwin, Martin
J. Barab, Jonathan Cornick, Sarah Green, Rachael Horovitz,
Peter Jay Klauser, Mark Ordesky; Directed and screenwritten
by David Mamet
by DAVID KEYES
America has proven to be one of the easiest targets for
comedic exploits in the movie industry, and no wonder: the
idea that an isolated, close-knit community occupied by
people who know the names and affairs of nearly everyone
else in town could be turned upside-down by scandal, commercialism
or similar issues, seems to open up the floodgate for enormous
potential. The principal merit in such an endeavor is not
usually the plot itself, however, but the colorful characters
involved, who tend to be portrayed by the most unlikely
actors and are generally conceived with bizarre identities
and questionable personal values in mind. Need examples?
Think for a moment about the quirky ensembles of "Fargo"
And Main" opens under this canvas of reasoning, as a movie
crew descends upon the small rural village of Waterford,
Vermont, having been kicked out of their New Hampshire location,
in order to complete the shooting of a movie titled "The
Old Mill." Their abrupt arrival is not without obligatory
skepticism: if residents aren't complaining that Hollywood's
arrival will commercialize their community and overshadow
local events, they're using every breath they have to land
some kind of involvement in the picture itself. The crew
of filmmakers have their own problems to deal with, though,
like a limited shooting schedule, a shoestring budget, and
a proposal for a product placement of an Internet web site
that would help the studio's revenue, but seems useless
in a movie that is taking place in the 19th century. There
are also severe rewrites for the crew to contend with, especially
upon learning that the old local mill, the prime visual
necessity in their picture, was burned down 40 years ago
by a local kid on an arson rampage.
to say, all of these incidents shape into a plot bleeding
over with mind-numbing complexity, as a small town is torn
into fragments when both residents and crew members cast
a dark cloud over the entire future of this production.
And yet under this much narrative pressure, "State And Main"
manages to be one of the most brilliant films of 2000: a
satirical, edgy and sweet comedy in which every person,
detail and camera shot is of complete significance.
intricate setup, likewise, propels us into the lives of
some of the richest characters of any recent movie, among
them: Walt Price (William H. Macy), the director of "The
Old Mill" who barks orders on impulse; Bob Barrenger (Alec
Baldwin), the main star whose risqué attraction to under-aged
teen girls may catch up with him; Marty Rossen (David Paymer),
a producer who oversees his production like a shark in charge
of a scuba lesson; Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman),
the writer whose screenplay about second chances reflects
his own life; and Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker),
an actress who is willing to go against her contract because
of the fear of doing a topless scene (although several plot
gags indicate that her chest has been seen unclothed enough
already). Both Baldwin and Parker as the stars of "The Old
Mill" are charming screen presences in almost every detail,
while Macy, Paymer and Hoffman serve as the loaded cannons
for the movie's sharp comedic tone.
writer and director here is David Mamet, a Pulitzer prize
winner whose last three big films—"The Spanish Prisoner,"
"Wag The Dog" and "The Winslow Boy"—have won universal acclaim
for their cleverly devised scripts (although the massive
praise for the two latter pictures may have been overly
emphasized, since the movies themselves were not as good
as the masses perceived). Mamet himself is a decent storyteller,
but his greatest forte lies in the spoken word. Like Shakespeare,
he supplies his characters with witty, sophisticated and
sometimes cynical dialogue that trickles off the tongues
of the actors and spurs the audience into several moments
of solid laughter. It can be argued that "State And Main"
has some of his best dialogue yet: it's clever, enticing,
hilarious, and at some points, a little reflective of recent
issues in the nation's news. There is one scene, for instance,
between the writer Joseph and a woman from town named Ann
(Rebecca Pidgeon), in which he offers a ridiculous explanation
for why the actress Claire is standing in his room totally
nude. He asks her with doubt, "Do you believe it?" "Yes,"
she replies. His response: "but that's absurd." Her reply:
"so is our electoral process, but we still vote!"
the question remains to be answered: will Mamet's latest
achievement be remembered by the up-and-coming Academy Award
race? It remains to be seen. But considering the generally
mediocre selection of efforts from last year, the light
at the end of the tunnel for "State And Main" remains bright.
The movie is flawless. And for those in search of a strong
comedy at theaters rather than a mild outing like "What
Women Want" or "Miss Congeniality," it cannot be beat.
2001, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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