Two bumbling store clerks inadvertently erase the footage from all of the tapes in their video rental store. In order to keep the business running, they re-shoot every film in the store with their own camera, with a budget of zero dollars.
In Passaic, NJ, Elroy Fletcher runs a video store in a condemned building he claims was the birthplace of Fats Waller. Fletcher goes on a Waller centennial trip, leaving his foster son Mike in charge of the store. Mike's peculiar friend Jerry tries to sabotage a power station and nearly electrocutes himself, getting magnetized in the process. He inadvertently erases every tape in the store. Mike and Jerry hatch an plan to hide the disaster by making a homemade "Ghostbusters" to rent to a woman whom Fletcher will be phoning to check on them. Soon, with help, their homemade versions of films develop a cult following. Will this new business save the store and the building? What about Fats? Written by
Gondry's film is endearing homage, to the movies themselves and to an outlook not unlike Capra
Michel Gondry has an extremely cool, funny, and intriguing new film with Be Kind Rewind, as it finds him growing even more emotionally as an artist while taking a very slight step back with style (though not that it's a bad thing). It's rightfully called by Ebert "WHIMSICAL (all in caps)", but in his own right Gondry has made what could possibly be his closest yet (or maybe ever) to making a kind of Cinema Paradiso mixed with something out of It's a Wonderful Life. It's a crazy fable that only Gondry could do.
It goes without saying that one of the main draws of the success of the piece are the movie 'parodies' as they end up being almost by default. Mike (Mos Def, with a full-on lackadaisical kind of voice, not a strong performance by any measure but cool and relaxed) works at a video store in Pasaic, NJ, with his friend Jerry (Jack Black who is, almost by default, Jack Black as we know him in comedies) is a kooky, nagging dude who lives in a trailer by a power plant. Despite the best efforts of Mike's boss/mentor/father figure Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) while he's out of town, Jerry gets into the store after getting an astounding amount of electricity in his system. He magnetizes (i.e. erases) all the videotapes he touches, which is very quickly all, and there's only one answer with no access to videos and an inability to switch to DVD right away: make the damn movies as they were!
But better! At least in the eye of the beholder. It's a marvel at times to see how much invention there is in Gondry stripping everything down to a level of film-making that reminds one of what it's like to pick up a camera for the first time. Aspiring filmmakers alike can attest to it: the first time you get a camera and try for something you go for what you know, and Gondry charmingly, uproariously most times captures that feeling, going between Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, The Lion King, Driving Ms. Daisy, RoboCop, and a whole host of titles (as was also my friend's favorite, seeing Gummo on the list of "Sweded" titles was a gas). Seeing this process happen with the Be Kind Rewind store is like seeing what many conventional comedies go for, the big up of success at something of this variety (can't compare it right now, but you know where it's from going all the way back to comedies of the 40s) , but done with the right pathos.
Gondry loves this sect of marginalized folk in this run-down area of Passaic right off to the side of Route 80- and area some of us New Jersians pass by every day without a second thought- as he previously revealed, not without some coincidence in his documentary Block Party, of the natural thrill that comes with people getting on camera. It goes without saying some of them aren't the best of actors (not that Def and Black don't have their faults at times too), but Gondry isn't one to back off of that chance, to back up his snappy script with a multitude of faces we haven't seen, plus a couple of surprises with Mia Farrow as the local old-lady-quasi-dingbat, and Sigourney Weaver (a brilliant in-joke to the Be Kind's first remake) as a cold copyright agent.
Which brings me to what the most enchanting aspect- yes, enchanting a word to use here- of the film, which is that while it's often very, very funny in the places to be expected, it's also got real empathy for its characters, and for the society painted here. Going back to Capra, cause it's worth noting, Gondry isn't one to not recognize the forces at work in conglomerating (i.e. West Coast Video), gentrification (i.e. tearing down the square block to build a big apartment complex, sending them away to the projects), and the cynical attitude of the corporation towards the innocence of the Be Kind Rewind folk ("And we're the bad guys," Weaver's character comments to her other agents whilst all of the Sweded videos are destroyed).
But in digging into all of this, including an climax and just last act in general that inspires faith in these people, Gondry grows all the more closer to being a greater filmmaker than he's been before, almost in spite of the fact that he's shot a somewhat more conventional comedy than Eternal Sunshine or Science of Sleep. It's about nostalgia for an dying technology, to an extent, but it's moreover about the nature of the people who would still throw down the gauntlet for the craft itself. This is an amazing, muddy pup of a flick.
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