Be Kind Rewind (2008) dir. Michel Gondry
Starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow
I am a great admirer of Michel Gondry and really really wanted to love this film. Gondry's cinematic exhuberance and hands-on approach to filmmaking is admirable and infectuous. Gondry should be making films like this. And although "Be Kind Rewind" is not the bullseye hit that "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was he's still one of the most exciting filmmakers working today.
Jerry and Mike (Jack Black and Mos Def) are two old school video store workers - stunted 'man-children' really with a lovable ignorance to anything outside their Brooklyn enclave. When the store owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), leaves town for a few days he entrusts the shop to Mike, his number 2. One day Jerry accidentally magnetizes himself while trying to perform some industrial sabotage. For a while it's fun and games as he sticks himself to streetpoles and pisses magnetic pee on the street, but when he handles the VHS tapes, he inadvertantly erases them all. With Mike in a tailspin, a bubblethought pops into his head to re-record the erased movies with their own crappy video camera low-tech guerilla-style.
Their "sweded" films (as Jerry coins it) become a neighbourhood hit, which rallies the community together. But when the evil condo developers threaten to evict the tennement owners Mike and Jerry create their own original sweded film to raise the necessary money and save the building.
The film has a naive childlike quality, which works for and against it. The character live in their own insular world - 10 years behind everyone else - and they choose not to expand their world beyond their local Brooklyn streetcorner. This is admirable and could have provided fuel for some wonderful comedy - mixing the insular world with the outside world. Though Gondry attempts to capture this humour with Danny Glover's subplot, he misses this opportunity.
It's hard to fault "Be Kind Rewind" because it has a huge heart that it wears on its sleeve. Few films today are brave enough aspire to uncool values like community-togetherness and altruism. Though Gondry channels the optimism of Frank Capra, but he's unfortunately missing his Jimmy Stewart. Neither Jack Black nor Mos Def supply that rock solid grounding. Much of the film feels improvised and made up as they went along - but not in a good way. Jack Black's "jackblackisms" are funny, cause he's a natural comedian. But Mos Def is miscast. I like Mos Def a lot, but his speech was so slurred and drole at times I had trouble understanding him. It's works for Brando, but not Def. It's clear Gondry is a better director than a writer, and in "Be Kind Rewind" as a solo writer he was missing that Charlie Kaufman ear for natural yet cinema-friendly dialogue.
The concept of "Sweding" real films with low tech household items sounds better on paper than on screen. Though Gondry provides us with dollups of the eye-popping "how'd-he-do-that" creative ingenuitity we've seen in his other films and videos, I found myself laughing more at the concept than what was actually on screen.
As as aside, the best-ever example of real life Sweding is the fanboy internet sensatation, "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" - a shot for shot remake of the first Indy film made in the 80's by a group of neighbourhood kids. I had the privalege of seeing this film at Toronto's Sprockets Film Festival a few years ago. There's no suspension of disbelief required because the kids actually did it, it's on screen and its better than Gondry. Super producer Scott Rudin acquired the feature film rights, so who knows we just might some more 'sweding' on the big screen in the near future. Unfortunately because of the massive rights violations its' virtually impossible to find anywhere outside of the rare festival screening.
Back to "Be Kind Rewind"...Michel Gondry is a director, who perhaps, works best in the medium of short films (ie. videos and commercials) and he very well may never top "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless" in the feature film arena, but as long as he keeps spitballing his brain onto celluloid I will follow.
"Be Kind Rewind" is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada and New Line Home Entertainment in the U.S.