banner image

:: State And Main

Films about filmmaking are a difficult proposition. You risk alienating the average viewer with too many in-jokes or boring the people involved in the industry with clichés and cynicism. State and Main falters on both counts.

At his best, David Mamet writes sharp, brisk dialogue for thoroughly unlikable yet fascinating people (see Glengarry Glenross), usually men. His idea of women leaves something to be desired, particularly when he insists on casting his real life wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, who plays too good to be true Ann Black. Her performance is mannered and unconvincing, even more so when placed beside the always-wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the Mamet alter ego, playwright turned screenwriter, Joe White.

When the cast and crew of ‘The Old Mill’ arrive in Waterford, the small town is turned upside town, the homespun wisdom of the locals turning slowly into savvy industry talk about the latest box office figures in Variety. The often under rated Alec Baldwin plays the film’s star, Bob Barrenger, and his predilection for underage girls soon throws the production into jeopardy. But the music in every scene reminds us constantly not to take this film seriously. And there are some memorable one liners, when told that the only gift Bob Barrenger would like in his hotel room is a fourteen year old girl, the director, played by William H Macy, responds, well, get him half a twenty eight year old woman.

Mamet’s direction has gotten slicker since the stilted and theatrical The Winslow Boy, though he still seems to have trouble moving the camera. The opening credits are reminiscent of a brighter, jazzier Woody Allen and the proliferation of Matzoth (Jewish traditional crackers eaten at Passover) in the film seemed some kind of Jewish joke that no one was supposed to get.

Most of the jokes in the film are so thoroughly well flagged and obviously contrived that by the time the punchline comes it is no longer funny. The all-pervading cynicism of people in the movie industry becomes wearying and the happy ending is strangely unsatisfying, perhaps because it sets up a dilemma for the hero, which he then never actually has to resolve. It probably works as a light entertainment but if you really want to see a movie about movies, then I would recommend the far superior “Living In Oblivion”.

Screening at Cinema Nova, Cinema Como, George Cinemas and the Rivoli Cinemas