Sunday, February 24, 2008

A love-letter to movie-making: Be Kind Rewind

Mos Def and Jack Black in a scene from the "sweded" Driving Miss Daisy in Be Kind Rewind. Image originally found here.

Be Kind Rewind (2008; dir. Michel Gondry)

There's a brief scene in Gondry's film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which Joel and Clementine are outside the fence of a drive-in theatre, watching the film that's playing and making up the dialogue of the on-screen lovers as they do so. It's a charming moment in what is, for my money, one of the most romantic films ever made, and it seemed to me, as the Mrs and I watched Be Kind Rewind last night, that that scene in Eternal Sunshine feels like it could have served as the germ for Gondry's latest.

For those who don't have time to read more, here's the verdict: You want to see this. It's sweet, yes, but it's not merely sweet. There's something serious at the core of this movie. I think. At the very least, if it had been available in DVD I would have included it in my film-about-film film series.

The film's trailer gives you a good sense of its central conceit, so I'll not summarize the plot here. (Be sure, by the way, to watch the "sweded" versions.) That conceit, as I said earlier, seems anticipated by that scene from Eternal Sunshine: film, as a product of mass culture, is a site of play that all of us can participate in. Case in point: in the trailer you'll see Jerry (Jack Black) attempting to sing the theme to Ghostbusters and not come anywhere close to the "right" lyrics, much less the tune . . . but they do have the right sense of the "right" lyrics. So when Mike (Mos Def) challenges Jerry's command of the lyrics, Jerry can say, "I'm pretty sure it is" and, even though we laugh, he is "pretty" right.

To go see a film merely to view it, to see it as being at a remove from us, is like going to an art museum and being compelled to stay this side of the velvet ropes, when we could be in that part of the museum where the kids are drawing things. Gondry's films feel as though they were made in that part of the museum. Their rough appearance doesn't suck the viewer in; instead, they invite the viewer in, not turning him/her into a voyeur but making him/her complicit in what is happening. Rather than say too much about the particulars of Be Kind Rewind here, I'll just mysteriously say here that it's crucial to the film that it have an anyone-can-make-this look to it. That look ostensibly serves to reinforce the film's narrative, yes; but this film is directly aimed at its audience, as its final scene reveals. In fact, as I watched that final scene, I couldn't help but think that Gondry was offering up a comment on the subject of this post of mine.

This film is getting mixed reviews. The poor reviews--the ones I've seen--are written by people who see Jack Black's name on the posters and want a laugh-a-minute yuk-up or who want it to be an incisive satire of mainstream culture and tastes. Be Kind Rewind is neither of those. It is funny, and it is insightful, but its laughs come at no one's expense and its insight into mainstream culture goes far beyond that gained by finding fault with Rush Hour II or Driving Miss Daisy. It wants, I think, to remind its audience of a fundamental reason why we used to go to the movies in the first place, one that we've lost track of as it has become ever more convenient to watch movies when and where we want to watch them.

So, yeah: go see this.


Russell Arben Fox said...

A fine review, John. I actually didn't like Eternal Sunshine as much as many others did; I'm not sure why, as I recognize it as a brilliantly original and well-acted vision. Anyway, I'll definitely be putting this one on my list. Thanks!

John B. said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You're not alone in your demurring re Eternal Sunshine: I've bumped into a couple of others who agree with you and, like you, they're smarter than I am. ::shrug:: If it's okay with you, I'll not meditate further on the implications of that little observation.
Re Be Kind Rewind, this is one of those films that I'd recommend to everyone who says s/he loves film as something more than a way to kill a couple of hours. It's that sensibility that it's aiming at.

Annie in Austin said...

Hello John B.
I had to come over after seeing the poem at Pam's, to find out something about a person who could write such a wonderful thing.

I loved Eternal Sunshine, and enjoyed Science of Sleep and Human Nature so I was already looking forward to Be Kind, Rewind. Your post makes me anticipate it even more.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

domeheid said...

I thought it did have interesting things to say; I'm just not sure it said them clearly enough. It was clever. It was moving as it swelled with community spirit towards the end. But for me it was too rough around the edges. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had a much more coherent and satisfying plot, which is a funny thing to say about something written by Charlie Kaufman!