David Mamet is an amazing guy. Besides writing plays and
screenplays by the dozen, he can direct too. His last three movies
have been real doozies, The
Spanish Prisoner, The Winslow
Boy (one of my top ten films from 1999) and now State and Main.
These movies were all written or adapted by Mamet as well. There
is little in common among these three films other than the appearance of
his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, in all of them. The
Spanish Prisoner was a very stylized thriller, The
Winslow Boy was a period piece, and State and Main is a satire
on Hollywood. The plot is simple. A movie company descends on a small
New England town for some shooting on location. This town has been
chosen because it has an old mill. This is very important since the title
of the movie being shot is The Old Mill. Unfortunately, the
old mill burnt down 40 years ago but is still featured in the town's promotional
literature. The director (William H . Macy) and the producer (David
Paymer) must convince the unhappy writer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to do
a major rewrite. Meanwhile, the stars of the film (Alex Baldwin and Sarah
Jessica Parker) are making trouble by seducing an underage girl (Julia
Stiles) and by refusing to disrobe for the camera. You can guess which
does which. Meanwhile, the writer finds solace with the only cultured
person in town (Pidgeon) who runs the local bookstore. Also, in the
mix are the Mayor (Charles Durning) and his wife (Patti LuPone).
Many of you fervently believe that I won't give a comedy a good review.
watch me. If the combination of all these great actors with the writing
and direction of Mamet sound like they would lead to a wonderful film,
you would be right. State and Main is pretty wonderful.
Ok, this isn't There's Something
About Mary although there is a lot of slapstick. I'm sure I like
it so much because the humor requires some slight intelligence on the part
of the viewer. But it is hilarious. You have to appreciate
the humor in someone ordering a ``Tuna BLT." And watch for how they handle
product-placement of a dot.com company in The Old Mill which is
set in 1895. The whole cast is fab. In particular, Hoffman is great
as Mamet's alter ego. If you are wondering why all the writers in Hollywood
are about to go on strike, Mamet is here to tell you that they have severe
self-esteem problems. Hoffman is what we call ``hot" right now after
roles in high-profile films such as The
Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia.
But for me, he will always be Dusty talking about the ``suck zone" in Twister.
Macy does his usual amazing job playing the slightly disoriented and not
very nice director, while Paymer is nicely nasty as the producer.
Mamet is exorcising a few demons here. He also likes to feature his
wives in his films. House
of Games, his great 1987 film, starred Mamet's then wife, Lindsay
Crouse, as the psychiatrist and love interest. Pidgeon, married to
Mamet since 1991, played the secretary and love interest in The
Spanish Prisoner, the sister and love interest in The
Winslow Boy, and bookstore owner and love interest in State and
Main. She is a very peculiar actor. She's a bit like William
Shatner in that she always seems to think she is on-stage at the New Globe
Theatre. Sometimes this works very well as in The
Winslow Boy, sometimes it is very weird as in The
Spanish Prisoner. Here, it works because everyone else in the
movie is overacting on purpose. Baldwin and Parker play dopey versions
of their real selves quite humorously. The writing is great, and
the comic timing in the acting and direction is particularly nice.
The plot moves right along, only running out of steam a bit towards the
end where they make the mistake of getting a bit serious. I know
you don't trust me on these comedy things but this will be on my soon-to-be-released
top ten list for 2000.