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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 33.8%
Average: 11.27%
Pretty Bad: 2.82%
Total Crap: 9.86%

7 reviews, 29 user ratings

State and Main
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by Erik Childress

"Mamet's Crossroads of Genius and Hilarity"
5 stars

The title of David Mamet's new film, State and Main, represents a crossroads right in the middle of the All-American town. It's appropriate since it's a wee little town being invaded by a Hollywood film crew to tackle their latest project. For this is a film that is more than just a brilliant comedy but an intersection of all kinds of filmmaking, genres and values that is ingeniously rich and one of the true gems of the year.

The town in question is Waterford, Vermont and if you're wondering where it is, in true Mamet-speak, "that's where it is." The film crew led by director Walt Price (William H. Macy), swoop into town, rent out the local hotel, and must skirt around the problems in the four days leading up to their 19th century production.

Playwright Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has lost his typewriter on the verge of getting his first screenplay produced. Leading man Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin) and his penchant for the underage got them kicked out of the last town. Leading Lady Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) has "found religion" and therefore won't bare her breasts for the movie. And take-no-prisoners producer Marty Rosen (David Paymer) is called in to make sure she fulfills her contract and to protect the interests of every investment associated with the picture.

The townsfolk don't make it easy on them either. Mayor Bailey (Charles Durning) wants to welcome them with a nice homecoming dinner, but his overeager wife (Patti LuPone) wants to refurbish that home to reflect the period they have come to recreate. Young Carla Taylor's (Julia Stiles) interests include initiating a very close friendship with the leading man. The ambitious town politician, Doug Mackenzie (Clark Gregg) wants to get a percentage of the film's gross and goes to even further lengths when his fiancée, Ann (Rebecca Pidgeon) begins a close friendship of her own with Joseph, the screenwriter.

With a great cast, multiple storylines and a situation ripe with satire, the tables are all set with the basic elements for screwball comedy. But Mamet has so much more up his sleeve (as usually the case), laying the groundwork for farce and cynicism and slowly bringing a sweeter and cleverer film to the forefront. Like the many mysteries of the film, first kept from us and then later revealed, Mamet engages the audience by allowing us to connect the dots with the literary brush he uses to paint.

State and Main front and center is a satire of both Hollywood and anytown U.S.A. It also contrasts the values of both places in the context of a story that is nothing short of the classic morally laced screwball comedies of Preston Sturges, Frank Capra and Howard Hawks. If you doubt Mamet's intention, just remember that Mayor Bailey's first name is George. The themes of the script within the script are frequently noted as about the "quest for purity" and "second chances." J.T. White, the screenwriter, becomes the film's hero as the perfect middle ground between the film industry and the everyman, especially when his values and character are later tested.

As White is overwhelmed with the constant rewrites on the set, his relationship with the endearing bookstore owner, Ann increases. Cut back to where director Walt is putting out the next fire, barking orders, massaging egos and then pulling an about two-face. We breeze by the pair of town regulars checking out the per-screen-averages in Variety and then onto the politician looking to destroy the movie.

Mamet sets his scene to allow the public's obsession with celebrities to flow freely. He also isn't shy on making the office seeker the villain. In Mackenzie's attempt to trump up charges on the moviestar's "hobby", he neglects that young Carla is equally if not more responsible and becomes even more guilty himself of crying rape in a small town. Like the pothole in the middle of Waterford, he is representative of the scourge that keeps America from being a near-perfect place to live.

Sure, stereotypes are abound in State and Main, but they are ones that begin as mere caricatures and later evolve into genuine human beings, much like from the page to the screen. And it's aided by Mamet's page and the screen's actors. William H. Macy is at his Mametian best, spitting out verbal assaults at anyone who crosses his path, with the ease of a Hollywood auctioneer. David Paymer then enters as his equal and then some producer spewing out more venom than a python advocating censorship. Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker, play up their stereotypes as the scandal-laced pretty boy and cleavage-flashing bimbo mistaken for an actress perfectly. Asocial tendencies aside, you can't help but love every one of them.

But the true heart lies amongst Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rebecca Pidgeon as the two writers falling into one of the sweetest and more realistic movie romances in years. Their interaction hits every high note and then breaks through the atmosphere. The way she inspires him to write and how he becomes an outlet for that inspiration is the stuff of the golden age of romantic comedy. I applauded how the two of them along with Mamet were able to turn the cliché of catching the special someone in a misinformed tryst into something so fresh, topped off with the best punchline of the year. It's a beautiful thing to see Hoffman get to play the romantic lead after years of quirky, jerky supporting friends and enemies. And we can hope that Pidgeon will now get some steady work outside of Mamet productions because both of them here deserve nominations.

To call State and Main one of Mamet's best screenplays is high praise. When you consider he's responsible for some of the great works of the stage and screen, separating some from the others is like favoring one of your children over another when all of them are members of MENSA. Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, House of Games, & The Spanish Prisoner are all his. But, what State and Main really becomes is Mamet's finest achievement as a director. Juggling nearly a dozen major characters and in turn juggling pace from frenetic for the film crew scenes to low-key for the romance, it's a film that any director would be proud to see listed on their page at the Internet Movie Database. It deserves to be on everyone's list of the year's best films and if you were to make a list of the 10 best lines of the year, you could fill it up with ones solely from this movie. To quote one just one of those great lines, Mamet has a gift for fiction.

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originally posted: 12/21/00 19:18:29
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User Comments

4/08/03 Jack Sommersby Stale and obvious. Mamet's timing is poor, and Macy is classically miscast. A real botch. 1 stars
7/16/02 Phil M. Aficionado It was a 2 star story with a 3 star script and 4 star acting. 3=average overall 3 stars
4/05/02 Edfink Lombardo Hysterical comedy with pitch-perfect dialogue...William H. Macy is in top form 5 stars
1/18/02 daniboy good enough to recommend it 4 stars
12/25/01 Angela Murtagh Disgustingly boring...I hated it...worst movie ever!!! 1 stars
11/15/01 AgentDS Good for a laugh 4 stars
10/13/01 Bevan R. Clark Clever dialogue, great cast but slow paced. 4 stars
8/21/01 tnt slow..tedious and dull! 1 stars
8/19/01 hum some good lines but slow and unengaging 3 stars
8/14/01 chouck I couldn't care less about any of the characters 2 stars
8/09/01 Andy Panda Boring, unfunny. Found myself not giving a shit what happened next. 2 stars
7/07/01 viking Good old fashioned fun with a modern flavour 4 stars
7/01/01 Onyx Enjoyed it, was clever and funny. 5 stars
6/25/01 Monday Morning Had its moments but poor compared to "The Player" and "Get Shorty" as HW satires go. 3 stars
6/21/01 The Bomb 69 intelligent and witty writing, solid acting, slow in patches though 4 stars
6/06/01 Belinda Clever intelligent filmaking but a bit too slow. 3 stars
3/09/01 gmh Has its moments, but Hoffman is horrible. 3 stars
2/17/01 tom guy good 5 stars
2/13/01 Jake That line about our electoral process was as forced as this crap of a movie. 1 stars
2/08/01 Mark boring, stilted badly acted crap 1 stars
2/05/01 ems. a great film that will keep you laughing and guessing 5 stars
2/03/01 Heather Funny movie, full of insights and chuckles, Hoffman shines as ever 4 stars
1/24/01 Matt Oh My God!!! What a dumb ass movie. No questions were answered. What was the point. 1 stars
1/19/01 Angela M. Murtagh it was the worst movie I have ever was boring and slow and it sucked! 1 stars
1/17/01 Jes I laughed... occasionally... 3 stars
1/16/01 kyle expected more 3 stars
12/27/00 Jenny-My-Fur awesome, funny as hell, everyone should see this movie, macy &hoffman are oscar noms! 5 stars
12/19/00 frankko well written, smart, funny movie. and the entire cast is phenomenal 5 stars
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  12-Jan-2001 (R)


  07-Jun-2001 (M)

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