In a present that will be hard to top, STATE AND MAIN, by
writer/director David Mamet (THE WINSLOW BOY), is a wonderful gift to
moviegoers that comes to theaters this Christmas. Possessing some of
the same charm of an early Mamet film, the whimsical THINGS CHANGE from
1988, STATE AND MAIN is a screwball comedy and good-spirited satire
about filmmaking in small town America.
With such a great ensemble cast, it's hard to identify the story's star.
To the extent that the film has one, it is Academy Award winner William
H. Macy (FARGO) as the director of the film, THE OLD MILL, about to
begin shooting in the tiny hamlet of Waterford, Vermont. (The film
company is broke after being run out of a small town in New Hampshire
for unspecified reasons.) Macy with his big blue eyes that are so deep
that you could swim in them is at once delicately vulnerable and tough
as nails. His motto, as inscribed on his lucky pillow, is "Shoot first.
Ask questions afterward." Walt is a master at stroking his stars'
massive egos, but he is willing to throw tantrums if necessary to get
the movie made.
The male lead in Walt's film, Bob Berringer, played with charismatic
wickedness by Alec Baldwin, has a predilection for 14-year-old girls,
which has gotten him into trouble before. "Everybody needs a hobby",
Bob says smilingly of his illegal activities. Walt, who always tries to
please his cast, tells his assistant to get Bob half of a 28-year-old
woman. Walt tries to tell everyone what they want to hear. "That's not
a lie," he retorts when being caught in one. "That's a gift for
When Bob sets his eyes on a local girl named Carla (Julia Stiles), Carla
hints at being under-aged, knowing his preferences. Her exact age
remains a bit of a mystery. The story, in fact, takes great pleasure in
throwing all manner of little mini-dramas and mysteries at us, leaving
us to guess which will be dead ends and which will turn out to be
Walt and his neophyte screenwriter, Joseph 'Joe' Turner White (Philip
Seymour Hoffman), have problems aplenty, not the least of which is that;
after choosing Waterford for its old mill, they find out that the mill
burned down during a series of mysterious fires in 1960. (Ah, those
mysteries.) Another problem is that the female lead, Claire (Sarah
Jessica Parker from the "Sex in the City" television series), has found
religion and is no longer willing to appear topless as clearly specified
in her $3M contract. Actually, she is willing for an extra $800,000 to
bare her breasts. This is all terribly ironic since her breasts have
been on the screen so often that viewers "can draw them from memory"
claims Walt and others.
Joe falls in love with Annie (Rebecca Pidgeon), the owner of the local
bookstore. Annie is fond of quoting lines that he has forgotten from
Joe's own plays -- "If you weren't down, how would you know when you
were up" -- in order to cheer him up and to inspire him.
Hearing of the trouble on the set, the film's take-no-prisoners
producer, Marty (David Paymer), shows up to straighten everyone out.
Putting his arms around Walt, Marty is heard to say off-screen, "Did you
see the grosses for Gandhi 2?" Marty brings Walt a very profitable
product placement idea from a dot.com company. Of course, getting a
computer into a movie set in 1895 might prove difficult for someone less
resourceful than Marty.
All of the crew are heavy cell phone users, but this is done cutely and
not irritatingly as it was in HANGING UP. After the latter film, I
thought that I never wanted to see a cell phone in a movie ever again.
I've just barely scratched the surface of this story. In a tour de
force effort on Mamet's part, he manages to craft an enormous number of
fully developed characters, all of whom win our hearts, even if most do
have their faults. His talent is never better seen than in the clever
way in which he wraps up all of the story's loose ends. STATE AND MAIN
is the kind of big-hearted movie that's worth seeing again and again.
STATE AND MAIN runs a brisk 1:30. It is rated R for language and brief
sexual images but is considerably milder than most recent PG-13 movies.
Although it is the parents' judgment, I would see no problem taking kids
as young as 11. In fact, I'd be happy to let my son, who is 11, see it.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes