Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alec Baldwin, Alexandra Kerry, Charles Durning, Patti LuPone, Ricky Jay, Sarah Jessica Parker, William H. Macy, Clark Gregg, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Paymer, Julia Stiles, Lonnie Smith, Linda Kimbrough, Rebecca Pidgeon, Brian Howe
Written by: David Mamet
Directed by: David Mamet
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexual images
Running Time: 105
Date: 08/26/2000

State and Main (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Movie Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Hollywood loves to make fun of itself. It's always a good sport about it, too. Any time aspoof of evil producers, timid screenwriters, barking directors, and spoiledactors comes along, no one gripes too loudly. No matter how ridiculous theportrayal, they know that it's never far from the truth.

Along comes State and Main, David Mamet's take on Tinseltown. Mamet is a vicious writer and director who has ripped ordinary filmmaking to shreds with his screenplays for Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), and his The Winslow Boy (1999), but has also whored himself for money with projects like The Untouchables (1987) and The Edge (1997). I couldn't help but think that a little of the latter seeped into the former with his new film State and Main.

Not that State and Main isn't a hoot. It's wonderful fun, and very sharply written and acted. The timid screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is forced to re-write his screenplay "The Old Mill" because the small town they're filming in doesn't have an old mill and in the process falls in love with a local bookshop owner (Rebecca Pidgeon). The film's lead actress (Sarah Jessica Parker) has recently found religion and refuses to do topless scenes. The lead actor (Alec Baldwin) has a penchant for young girls, and soon gets into hot water with one (Julia Stiles). The barking director (William H. Macy) and the evil producer (David Paymer) yell and pull their hair and leave their consciouses on the doorstep.

I laughed at all the places I was supposed to, and especially at some of Mamet's turning-on-a-dime dialogue (Hoffman: "I'm going to tell the truth." Macy: "That... That's so NARROW"). But I couldn't help thinking of other recent filmmaking satires like The Big Picture (1989), The Player (1992), and Bowfinger (1999). State and Main doesn't seem to offer any kind of new viewpoint on the subject. Perhaps if the movie-within-the-movie had resembled one of Mamet's own projects on which he was particularly unhappy, then some necessary venom would have surfaced. It somehow smells sweet, rather than the usual acrid odor we've come to expect from Mamet.

Nonetheless, State and Main is a highly enjoyable movie. Mamet has the talent and the outsider cred to be able to handle a movie like this (as opposed to, say, Ron Howard). He's also become increasingly adept at directing actors. Seeing Macy and Hoffman in particular perform is one of the great joys of going to the movies right now. Since smart movies are in short supply right now, I'll give State and Main a hearty endorsement.

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