Sunday, June 29, 2008

Be Kind, Check this Out

I don't know if BE KIND, REWIND was screwed over by the marketing department or if director Michael Gondry was making a point about the way we brand movies. What I do know is that a movie with Jack Black, Mos Def, and an extraordinarily wacky premise isn't supposed to turn out as a loving treatise on the importance of community.

Quick summary: Mos Def works in a video store where Jack Black (who becomes magnetized in a great scene involving ingenious camouflage) accidentally erases all of the videotapes. Because no one carries VHS anymore, they can't replace the tapes. So they do the only logical thing: they remake the movies themselves with an ancient camcorder and a process they term "Sweding." They begin with GHOSTBUSTERS and by the end, they have Sweded over 200 movies, including ROBOCOP, KING KONG, THE LION KING, and, DRIVING MISS DAISY. The community comes to like the Sweded films better than the originals and a phenomenon is born.

Everything about this film screams unconcerned about whether people actually come to see it. Jack Black, Mos Def, and all the rest treat the movie as a kind of love letter to both film and to community. They have the aura of artists who so truly love the material that they are doing this for free, and the result is an electric kind of chemistry that shouldn't work, but manages to defy all logic and does anyway. A movie that includes Jack Black's magnetized urine shouldn't be lovely and touching, but is.

Gondry, who also wrote the script, turns Hollywood stereotypes on their heads throughout the picture. When Danny Glover's video store (which only carries VHS) is on the brink of demolition by a developer, every other movie ever made would have portrayed the developer as a money-hungry Texan who has no sympathy for the people and culture he's displacing. Gondry treats the character as a sympathetic man who is truly trying to improve the quality of life of the people of Passaic. Mia Farrow's character, an old lady that is the impetus for their movie-making (she's the one that wanted to watch GHOSTBUSTERS) is a beautiful woman that cares selflessly for the young black men of the community.

Race, although always present in the film - the three main stars of the Sweded movies are white, black, and Hispanic - is never discussed directly, but wonderfully and hilariously shown in context, such as during the filming of DRIVING MISS DAISY where Jack Black is the Jessica Tandy character to Mos Def's Morgan Freeman. When Jack shows up in blackface to play Fats Waller - he figures he's the right man to play him since he too is fat, Danny Glover takes him outside gently to discuss the problem. We don't hear the reprimand, but we do see it in what may be the best scene of the movie.

BE KIND REWIND ends with a scene out of a Frank Capra film, a scene just short of sappy, but so lovely that both Janna and I had the beginnings of tears in our eyes. Overall, the movie is a paean to interconnectedness. It's a simple film with a small budget that is more than the sum of its parts. It's a sort of anti-HAPPENING for me. Rather than liking it less and less the more I think about it, I like and admire BE KIND REWIND more and more.

4 and a half magnetized drops of urine out of 5.