Screen Reviews

State and Main

Written and Directed by David Mamet

Starring Phillip Sydney Hoffman, William H. Macy, David Paymer

Fleeing the angry lynch mob of cinema hating New Hamsterites, director Walt Price (Macy) heads across the Connecticut river with his doughty production crew to film The Old Mill, the sort of lugubrious morality film that so often appears in “a film within a film” film. Waterbury, Vermont is just about a perfect set, and priced just right, except that the mill burned down in 1960 in a spate of arsons. And his bimbo blonde leading lady, Claire (Sarah Jessica Parker), won’t show her boobs, and the leading man, Bob Berringer (Alec Baldwin), porks the town 16-year-old, and writer Joe White (Hoffman) lost his lucky typewriter. But there are no Teamsters and the weather is clear, so it’s a pretty smooth shoot. And everyone finds love, inspiration, or gets rich, but other than that, it’s damn funny. As Price barks orders and switches from Napoleon to Mother Teresa in a flash, his just about perfect supporting cast brings the process of bringing the big screen to life to life. (Read it again, I stole it from the movie).

One doesn’t think of Mamet as a gag writer, but the gags and subtle character studies carry this frenetic comedy. From the Mayor’s social climbing wife to the locals in the coffee shop to the Machiavellian producer (Paymer), there’s not a single person on screen you don’t love, or love to hate. This is good, since the plot is lame and there are more unexplained running jokes and unresolved events than Mamet usually leaves us with. Perhaps he tried to capture the allure of a small town, where everybody knows every otherbody. After all, he treated the charters not as bumpkins or idiots, but just a people acting rationally to the stream of daily events that flows everywhere, and they’re not ashamed to stare at a film crew. You would too – after all, this ain’t L.A.


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