Feb 17, 2009

Why haven't you seen... 8

State and Main (2000)
Dir: David Mamet

What’s it all about?

A film crew descends on the small town of Waterford, Vermont. The unit is in chaos; they’ve had to move because the star (Alec Baldwin) has had some trouble with the law. The old mill in Waterford, due to provide the film’s titular setting, burnt down in 1960, meaning that the writer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has a lot of work to do. The leading lady (Sarah Jessica Parker) is threatening to break her contract, and refuse to show her breasts, and that’s all before the writer begins to fall for a local bookseller (Rebecca Pidgeon).

Why haven’t you seen it?
David Mamet, for all the industry respect and critical appreciation he’s garnered, and despite the starry casts that flock to his films, has never managed to break the mainstream. State and Main is his most mainstream film, but was still afforded only a small and under-advertised release.

Why should you see it?

The first and perhaps best reason to see any of David Mamet’s films is the dialogue. He has a very particular rhythm, and a lot of his words sound written, but the finely honed quality of each line means that his films are a constant joy to listen to. For example…
“Who designed these costumes? It looks like Edith Head puked, and that puke designed these costumes.”
“I'm going to rip your heart out, then I'm going to piss on your lungs through the hole in your chest! And the best to Marian.”
“But it's absurd.” “So is our electoral process. But we still vote.”
What’s especially nice about State and Main is that it dumps, almost entirely, the often wearing profanity of much of Mamet’s other work for a gentler wit, with satirical bite rather than bludgeoning force.

As ever in Mamet’s films there is a starry cast to enjoy, made up of members of his stock company and visiting players. Mamet often comes in for flak by casting his wife Rebecca Pidgeon in major roles in most of his films since Homicide, but here she’s great value as Ann; a sweet, smart and utterly endearing character, who you can absolutely believe Hoffman’s harried writer falling for with the speed the script demands. Hoffman is also excellent, though that’s to be expected, and he really gets a handle on the cadence of Mamet’s dialogue. Also new to Mamet are Alec Baldwin, giving an extremely good humored turn, as a Hollywood star with a fondness for 14 year old girls (“Get him half a 28 year old girl”, Macy’s stressed director suggests at one point) and Sarah Jessica Parker, remarkably tolerable as the female lead in The Old Mill. The stock company is as well oiled as ever, with Ricky Jay, David Paymer and Clark Gregg good value in supporting roles, and William H Macy brilliant as ever as the director.

In both subject and look State and Main is Mamet’s warmest film. Waterford, Vermont is straight out of the Frank Capra playbook, and Mamet gets plenty of laughs out of affectionately ribbing small town life (the two old guys in the coffee shop who appear from time to time) as well as mercilessly mocking Hollywood (the product placement thread is hilarious). At times it may try to do a bit much, but all of State and Main’s parts work beautifully, and surely only the most miserable of viewers could fail to find something in it to make them smile.

How can you see it?

Both the US Region 1 and the German Region 2 dvds boast a commentary with Sarah Jessica Parker, William H. Macy, Clark Gregg, David Paymer and Patti LuPone.. The UK disc only has (very short) interviews, but is dirt cheap.

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