David Mamet movie makes fun of making movies

January 12, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN FILM CRITIC

For a guy who makes a pretty good living off Hollywood, David Mamet sure loves biting the hand that feeds him

Four years ago, he managed to skew the worlds of both cinema and politics by co-writing "Wag the Dog," a biting political satire that suggested the line between Washington reality and Hollywood unreality can be uncomfortably blurry. And now he's back with "State and Main," a snarling satire of Hollywood single-mindedness and its lack of any moral underpinning.

The result is a frequently hilarious look at the lengths to which studios will go to make a movie, a pointed commentary on a society where filmmakers are held in way-too-high esteem and a chance for some fine actors to show that they can take, as well as make, a joke.

The film opens with a movie crew descending on the small town of Waterford, Vt. For reasons unknown (at least initially), they've been kicked out of a similarly small New Hampshire town in the midst of shooting "The Old Mill," a little film about innocence that sure is having a tough time getting made.

Fortunately, Waterford meets the filmmaker's stringent requirements. Nobody asks a lot of questions. And there's an old mill in town. Or at least, there was. For one of the first things the filmmakers discover is that they should have read the entire tourist brochure; the mill burned down in a suspicious fire about 40 years before.

Ah, but such minor glitches cannot deter true creativity. T-shirts are printed with the words, "Does it have to be an old mill?" the screenwriter is told to make a few minor changes, and things roll merrily along.

Except, that is, for the lead actor (Alec Baldwin), who has a thing for young girls; the lead actress (a deliciously overwrought Sarah Jessica Parker), who suddenly becomes shy about baring her breasts (for anything less than an $800,000 bonus); the screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who suffers from the delusion that he matters; the director (William H. Macy), forced to work around a budget of zero dollars; the cinematographer (Vinne Gustafero), who has to come up with a way of shooting a scene through some inconveniently placed stained glass; and the townspeople, who are either too star-struck to act rationally or too blase to care.

Is this any way to make a movie? It's certainly the right way to make a movie satire, and while some of the references may be a little too inside-Hollywood (assistant producers get ragged on rather ceaselessly), the humor is broad enough - and the jabs pointed enough - to make sure no point is lost on even the most casual moviegoer.

If nothing else, you'll think twice about spending time around the next movie shoot that finds its way to Baltimore.

`State and Main'

Starring William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker

Written and directed by David Mamet

Released by Fine Line Features

RatedR (language and brief sexual images)

Running time 102 minutes

Sun score: ***

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