(No longer in theaters)
New Line Cinema
Feb 22, 2008
To call the narrative shambling and the acting amateurish is not wholly an insult, because Be Kind Rewind is determinedly unslick. Michel Gondry, like many French-born filmmakers, has the Big Deconstructionist Idea. He’s exploring the gulf between the democratization of moviemaking and the daunting amount of money, technical resources, and personnel it takes to make anything that the mainstream audience will want to see. He’s also showing how far a little bit of wit and humanity can go. In The Science of Sleep and many of his music videos, Gondry’s designs are right on the border between CGI-miraculous and handmade—manufactured realities that draw attention to their childish surrealism. The funniest things in Be Kind Rewind are not the many moments in which Mike and Jerry look like Ed Wood’s worst nightmare, but when the pair finds expedient ways to do for pennies what would take Brett Ratner millions and be less expressive to boot.
A little slickness would not have been misplaced, though. Mos Def, a gifted actor, is on simpleton autopilot, and Black would be a better clown if he were physically more inventive. A narrative this outlandish requires the characters to act like borderline mental defectives, which reins in both Glover and Mia Farrow, who plays a kind of child-woman neighbor. Gondry might think he’s parodying dumb comedies in which poor people rally to save beloved institutions from foreclosure—but too often Be Kind Rewind just resembles them.
Fats Waller holds this ramshackle picture together. He’s Mr. Fletcher’s idol—the source of the old man’s dreams and civic pride, and the subject of the movie’s final act. It’s a soft ending, a little woozy (or, at least, it made me woozy). But it radiates the kind of optimism you don’t see in films about how new media is turning us all into passive voyeurs in our own hermetically sealed bubbles. This bubble is warm and inclusive.