Friday, 29 August 2008

Be Kind, Rewind

Having graduated from short films, music videos and documentaries, French director Michel Gondry had introduced a freshness to mainstream cinema that had been missing for a while. His most successful full-length movie was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004, starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carey.

When he decided to make a new piece of feature-length fiction he was once again able to assemble a cast with impressive back-catalogues. School of Rock hero, and Tenacious D legend, Jack Black, was eager to work with the French prodigy.

Mos Def, star of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Danny Glover and Mia Farrow were added to support the obvious comedic talents of Black. It appeared to be an exciting cocktail of star performers.

Be Kind, Rewind follows the story of two unlikely friends in a small, unrealistically twee suburb. The main content of the film is a variety of other people’s films, in the form of shoddy remakes produced by Jerry (Jack Black) and video-rental-store owner Mike (Mos Def). This includes Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy, The Lion King and Rush Hour.

It becomes apparent early in the film that the characters of Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover) and local simpleton Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) are dependant on the store, and so is the community. It’s only after conspiracy theorist Jerry magnetises himself, in an attempt to save the town from radiation, that the contents of the store become blank, forcing the local people into action.

Ghetto kids, mechanics and even Elroy and Miss Falewicz begin to get involved in Jerry and Mike’s filmmaking. Black is in his element, as each film provides and opportunity for him to produce his goofy brand of comedy. His relationship with the more reluctant character of Mike makes for a tale of unusual friendship.

Buddy comedies come and go, but few make a lasting impression. The understanding between Mos Def and Jack Black is clearly evident, but never really hits the heights of those they are literally trying to emulate. The potential is there to at least grasp at what Aykroyd and Murray brought to the Ghostbusters movies, but is stifled by the style of Michel Gondry’s storytelling.

The director, born in Versailles, is heavily influenced by pop music and his filmmaking roots are firmly planted in making music videos. He has worked with famous names such as Bjork, The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack in the past.

It was perhaps his experience with 3 or 4-minute films that made the prospect of shooting several movies within one a mouth-watering prospect. In Be Kind, Rewind it only served to starve the audience, denying the opportunity for a flowing plotline to effectively develop.

As the local people come together various journeys of individual and communal discovery flourish. The presentation of their film at Mike’s video store provides the occasion at which friends, neighbours and relative strangers can let their guards down, forming relationships with all kinds of people in an outpouring of emotion.

Frankly it’s all a bit kitsch. Although Mike and Jerry manage to forge a very believable friendship, largely due to the sublimely subtle performance of Mos Def, the unity that is suddenly formed in the entire community is highly questionable. The coming together of people in defiance of class and ethnic division simply isn’t believable.

The characters of Miss Falewicz and Elroy Fletcher forming a relationship is also far too tentative and unlikely. Jerry and Mike cross the ethnic divide almost effortlessly, in a way that Farrow and Glover seem to find more difficult. The lack of common interest seems to make it painstakingly obvious they are an unlikely match, whereas Mike and Jerry are united through their filmmaking exploits.

Michel Gondry undoubtedly wanted to shine a little light into an American suburb, but he only managed to find enough for two people. Without the superb comic ability of Jack Black and the vulnerability produced by Mos Def the disappointing peripheral scenes could’ve overshadowed this film. Fortunately Black and Def provide great moments of friendship and comedy making this buddy comedy worth a watch.

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