State and Main review by Tom Blain
Mammet can play funny.
A two years back, I remember seeing the movie State and Main with my good friend Eric at the New Orleans Film Festival of 2000. If I remember correctly it wasnt the movie we had intended on seeing that night but left us in stitches. I even proclaimed that it was in my opinion the best movie of the year (2000 was a rather disappointing year for film). As far as my favorite films that year, the common theme was 'writiers'. Wonder Boys (dealt with novelists), Almost Famous (magazine writier), and State and Main (a film writer).
It can often be an interesting exercise to view a film years after had made your first judgement. How often have we claimed one movie was spectacular after one sitting, see it on DVD months later and wonder "what did I see in this before." This case isn't nearly as drastic. State and Main is still a wonderful film, but I wondered: Would it still hold up in my mind as a great film?
First a little background information. State and Main is a film about the invasion of big time Hollywood on the small picturesque village of Waterford, Vermont (go you Huskies!). The invasion, as it were, seems to turn into a bit of a struggle, comically, between the smalltown values of purity and fame, fortune, and corruption of the Hollywood film system. The two main characters are local girl Annie (Rebecca Pidgeon) who runs a local drama club and naive writer Joeseph Turner White (Phillup Seymour Hoffman) who often forgets lines from his own work. The cold, no none-sense director Walter Price is played by William H. Macy. He is hysterical. His David Mammet one-liners are played to perfection and often provide the films laughs. Alec Baldwin and Sara Jessica Parker play the two main actors in the film they are shooting. Parker seems to be at home in her role as the shallow actress and Baldwin (equally as shallow) is a bit of a bafoon with a dangerous obcession for teenage girls.
Yes I did mention David Mammet. He directs and writes this throwback to the 40s screwball comedy and does so with tremendous balance between the two styles of people in the film. Take for example Annie's politician fiance who believes that the filmmakers are the ones corrupting and ruining the town. In the end, it is Annie convincing the screenwriter that he must "bear no false witness" when it is her fiance who is taking $800,000 from the producer to keep the lid on the main star's "hobby." As always it wouldn't be a Mammet film if he didn't double back and try to fool the audience. If you are familiar with his films you probably have caught on to his 'tells' and know when his tricks are coming a mile away.
The jokes are played out with an artists precission. Very little slapstick; delivery and of course the David Mammet cool wit play heavily into the chuckles. But he also knows that at times nothing needs to be said at all. The camera can point things out to an adept audience and sometimes that is even funnier than having some character vessel point it out so blatantly.
The characters in the film are fun. The two actors are played so shallow to show a sort of juxtapostion to show the depth of the two main chacters in 'this' film; the characters no one else in the film seem to care as much about. The romance is cute. Like I said, its a throw back to the old 1940s screwball comedy, so the love story may ring a bell with people who have seen Bringing Up Baby or the Philadelphia Story. The innocense is somewhat refreshing, but at times the romance itself makes little sense.
So this comedy was Dave Mammet's fouray into the "point and laugh at the insides of Hollywood" film. Seems like a cliche, that any establish writer has to take his stab at Tinsel Town and the industry that made him rich. But hats off to Mammet. He earned it and churned out a delightful film. Does it still hold up two years later? Well, yes, but I dont think its anything great and spectacular. Its a film that few people saw to begin with, so if you haven't seen it do yourself a favor. There is something almost ordinary with it after some time. While it is a good movie, it didnt really break new ground (sticks with an old genre and theme) or set any new records.
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