STATE AND MAIN(director/writer: David Mamet; cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton; editor: Barbara Tulliver; cast: Alec Baldwin (Bob Barrenger), Charles Durning (Mayor George Bailey), Clark Gregg (Doug MacKenzie), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Joseph Turner White), Patti LuPone (Sherry Bailey), William H. Macy (Walt Price), Sarah Jessica Parker (Claire Wellesley), David Paymer (Marty Rossen), Rebecca Pidgeon (Ann Black), Julia Stiles (Carla Taylor); Runtime: 106; Fine Line Features; 2000)
“Much like the sophisticated comedies of Preston Sturgess.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An enjoyable, witty, Hollywood satire from director-writer David Mamet, who presents a sharp comedy that rails against his own acting community. If you love snappy dialogue, characters who are insightful, and a healthy sprinkling of sheer playfulness you will find this film an old-fashioned delight, much like the sophisticated comedies of Preston Sturgess.
It pretends to give you the dirt only an insider would know on how a Hollywood film is made. The film company just left a New Hampshire town to avoid a scandal. Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin), the film within a film’s star, got into trouble because his hobby is chasing teenage girls. The film company ends up in the sleepy small New England town of Waterford, Vermont, which was selected because the outdated brochure said it had an old mill. The old mill is the focal point of the story “The Old Mill” they are adapting to film.
The fast-paced comedy starts off with a calamity. The town’s old mill burnt down in 1960, therefore there’s no mill. There will be a series of calamities one after another, and each adding to the fun and the absurdity of the filming situation. Most difficulties arise because of the pampered Hollywood stars. The locals who are either starstruck or are as equally avaricious as the stars, cause other problems. This puts pressure on the company heads to finish the film fast. To make matters worst they have run out of money and can’t afford to build the needed 19th century mill from scratch and it’s too late to try another town with a mill.
The film company is led by the manipulative director Wally Price (William H. Macy), whose temperament swings from being callously humorous to those he considers unimportant to being obsequious in handling important members of the cast.
Wally must deal with his neurotically insecure first-time script writer, Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who can only work on his manual typewriter which is lost in transit. He has to be coddled by Wally to rewrite the script to be without an old mill, which leaves the depressed writer ruminating about what to do. Wally, of course, has a ready answer for any of Joe’s doubts about changing the story, as he denies that he lies about the film’s new theme: “It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.”
Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the film’s glamorous and petulant co-star who suddenly refuses to show her tits even though as the producer, Marty Rossen (David Paymer), states that the nation could “draw them from memory.” Only for $800,000 more on her contract will she do the honors, even though her original contract calls for her to do a nude scene. It’s Marty’s job to come up with the money or figure some way to get out of that problem and all the other problems that emerge during filming. The bare tit problem gets solved in the rewrite as Joseph now declares that the film is about purity and that she won’t have to bare her breasts to the camera but only to Bob, whom she occasionally boffs anyway.
The mayor (Charles Durning) is starstruck as is his grasping wife (LuPone). He gives the film crew all the permits and cooperation they need to make the film and only asks that the director and the stars come to their elaborate dinner. He wishes to use the showbiz folks for his own social gain. Due to a mix up in dates the Hollywood people are no shows. This gets the mayor and his shrewish wife angry. They were dressed in Scottish kilts awaiting their important guests.
Carla (Stiles) is the attractive delivery girl in her father’s restaurant that caters to the film crew who catches Bob’s lustful attention, and it becomes a question of which one seduced the other first. After Bob’s car flips over on a Main St. pothole and hits the town’s only traffic light leaving himself and his underaged date Carla slightly injured, it leads to questions about whether he should be charged with statutory rape if the only witness to the accident, Joe, will be principled enough to tell the truth or not.
Ann (Pidgeon-Mamet’s wife) is the local bookstore owner who is engaged to an ambitious lightweight politician (Clark Gregg), but who unexpectedly breaks off the engagement as she goes after Joseph Turner White. She helps Joe with his rewrite and a sweet romance blossoms amidst all the hypocrisy surrounding them, including how suddenly she falls for Joe and Dumps the politico. The rejected suitor recovers from his rejection and bribes the Hollywood people over Bob’s sexual indiscretion, as he brings charges of statutory rape.
There is a running gag throughout from two stoic Yankees with lines that are pure Mamet delights, as these two old-time Vermonters who are nonplussed by all the fuss in town over the Hollywood people have a dialogue that goes like this: Woodchuck #1: “It takes all kinds.” Woodchuck #2: “That’s what it takes? I always wondered what it took.”
In this fine ensemble cast, David Paymer excelled. He was priceless as the unscrupulous Jewish stereotypical Hollywood figure, portraying a smarmy producer-lawyer (perhaps only a witty Jewish director such as Mamet can get away with such a vile character depiction without being called to the carpet). Philip Seymour Hoffman, who never fails to give a great performance, is asked to carry the film’s moral theme about making a career move by lying. William H. Macy nearly had me rolling in the aisle with his quick-witted delivery and nonstop diatribes. While Alex Baldwin played the languid Lothario part to perfection.
REVIEWED ON 2/3/2001 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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