Movie Magazine International

State and Main

USA - 2000

Movie Review By Casey McCabe

Funny and sweet, vicious and redemptive, "State and Main" is a film about a film about second chances. Written and directed by David Mamet, it's an enthusiastic dishing of the business of making motion pictures. And because everyone in the film is in the business of making motion pictures, they have all taken to Mamet's script with uncommon glee. It's like the inspired venting folks in any profession might do after a pitcher of margaritas at T.G.I.F.'s. But perhaps only the film industry could get its laughs without resorting to drunken exaggeration.

We open with director Walt Price, played by William H. Macy, sizing up the too-good-to-be-true hamlet of Waterford, Vermont. His production, a big budget 19th Century period piece called "The Old Mill" has just been kicked out of its New Hampshire location for undisclosed reasons and Price has no margin of error if he hopes to pull this baby off in time and on budget. Of course cataclysms lurk around every picturesque corner, including the revelation that the town's famous old mill actually burned down more than 40 years ago. Without blinking, Price turns to his screenwriter, played by Philip Seymor Hoffman, and asks if he can rewrite The Old Mill so that it doesn't require an old mill. A major development to be sure, but just one of many that percolate simultaneously in the grand tradition of screwball comedy.

David Mamet? Screwball comedy? Sounds terribly odd. Works surprisingly well. "State and Main" is a brazenly devised culture clash movie, this one pitting Arrogant, Excessive Hollywood against Simple, Virtuous Small Town America. Joining Macy on the interlopers side is Alec Baldwin's box office star with a penchant for underage girls, Sarah Jessica Parker's oversexed and insecure leading lady, and David Paymer's eviscerating black garbed producer.

The Waterford locals include Charles Durning's accommodating mayor and Patti LuPone as his socially starved wife, Julia Stiles as the underage but hardly innocent sandwich vendor, Clark Gregg as the ambitious local politician, and Rebecca Pidgeon as the sweet tempered local intellectual. And as the two sides slowly circle each other, it is Hoffman and Pidgeon who take the Tony and Maria roles, crossing the lines to find love, purity and redemption.

"State and Main" is cynical inasmuch as it reminds us that nothing not even Waterford's kindly old Doc Wilson is as good as we'd like to believe. But at heart it is a rollicking, dare I say even madcap, crowd-pleaser. Still, I wouldn't put my money on the film finding the audience it deserves. I'm thinking of Robert Altman and "Cookie's Fortune" and David Lynch's "The Straight Story": the kinder, gentler films of one master satirist and one twisted iconoclast. With "State and Main" the famously jaundiced Mamet has decided to have himself a little fun, and I for one think it would be nice to encourage him.

© 2000 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 12/20/00

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