1 Hr., 41 Mins.
Be Kind Rewind
aw through the various listicles deciding what the best movies about filmmaking are and you’ll see a handful of familiar titles. François Truffaut’s romanticized, celebratory Day for Night (1973), which chronicled the making of a run-of-the-mill women’s picture starring Jacqueline Bissett. Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994), a stylized biopic which scrutinized the behind the scenes details of some of the worst movies ever made. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), an ensemble black comedy which dramatized the highs and lows faced by performers who defined the Golden Age of Porn.
All these movies are deserving of their rapturous reception. Infectious and inventive, they at once turned the art of moviemaking into an awe-inspiring extravaganza to be devoured and created personal dramas to get lost in.
But in their rather idealistic depictions of filmmaking did they also prove to be kind of intangibly rose-colored. Like the big-budgeted, histrionically mounted works of cinema they were attempting to emulate, they were sort of airy – works of accidental, Technicolored reverie.
Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind (2008) is also a movie about moviemaking. But different here is that the act itself doesn’t appear as an untouchable type of spectacle. It’s a community event, fun and brotherly. While watching it, we might be reminded of the days when we passed the time by making home movies with our friends. The days when we could lose ourselves in our imaginations while playing games in the backyard.
The movie makes for a departure from Gondry’s previous feature films. His finest – like 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 2006’s The Science of Sleep – were erratic and pointedly quirky, cerebral comedies you either loved or hated. Contrastly, Be Kind Rewind is a conventional comedy with big ideas and big emotional payoffs. It’s a proper crowd-pleaser tough to dislike, either because the twee charm’s so balancedly put forth or because we do so genuinely enjoy being in the company of its characters.
The premise is intriguing, and manages to never really lose what makes it so appealing in the first place. It stars the rapper Mos Def as Mike, a mild-mannered clerk working at
Be Kind Rewind, a New Jersey-based, scarcely decked out video store. Although the place is novel and likable – one of the few of its kind that hasn’t crossed over into DVD rental – it’s struggling. Locals aren’t so welcoming of tapes. The building’s in dire need of renovation. Governmental bigwigs are threatening to demolish the property to make space for high-end developments.
Most years, the store’s owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), has claimed that a famous jazz musician was born inside the building some decades ago – and that’s helped him gain some sympathy and extra time. But as the film opens, developers are antsier than ever. Without much compassion, highers-up warn Mike and Fletcher that Be Kind Rewind will be forced to shut down if it does not prove itself financially viable or structurally sound within the next few weeks.
Worried, Fletcher takes a days-long trip to the Big Apple to visit a successful DVD rental store to soak in its business practices. He leaves Mike in charge. But before departing, he cautions his employee to keep his paranoid, delusional pal Jerry (Jack Black) away from the store. The man has, after all, wreaked havoc before. But Mike doesn’t listen, and before long do Fletcher’s anxieties come true: Jerry’s involved in a freak accident that leaves all the business’ videotapes destroyed.
Rather than take responsibility for his mistake, Mike decides to innovate. What if, instead of getting new copies of the damaged videos, he and Jerry simply made home videos recreating rentals of interest? Such seems trivial and undoable. Yet the idea proves to be lucrative. Mike and Jerry’s first recreation, 1984’s Ghostbusters, ends up being such a success, they end up redefining the business’ model as a whole. A customer walks in, asks for a specific movie, and Mike, Jerry, and other members of the neighborhood will take a day to shoot a “sweded,” 20-minute version of the film in question.
Among the movies repurposed in Be Kind Rewind are Carrie (1976), RoboCop (1987), and Rush Hour 2 (2001) – and all the products are funny and amiable. This small New Jersey community loves them so much, the enterprise goes from barely-making-it small business to thriving neighborhood commodity. Financial stability finally seems like a not-so-far-off reality.
But then warnings of a copyright infringement come about. Then threats of demolition broaden. Then the cliché we’d perhaps always been expecting arrives: Mike and Jerry must make an original movie – with the help of most of the neighborhood – in a last-ditch attempt to save Be Kind Rewind.
The results are endearing, if ambiguously successful. Yet what I like so much about the feature is the way it is so relentlessly optimistic even when the goings really get rough. (Or the way it somehow avoids being excessively quirky.) Lightweight and agreeable, it possesses a kind of carefree attitude that allows it to abstain from going too far down the rabbit hole when circumstances seem bleak. It also wonderfully captures those good feelings that come around when a ragtag team comes together to make something special. The formation of a community is often central to moviemaking, and Be Kind Rewind expresses that sense of camaraderie beautifully.
It never much makes a wrong move, save for its insipid treatment of a tertiary female lead (Melonie Diaz) who deserves more. But for all intents and purposes, Be Kind Rewind is effective: it’s a congenial comedy that benefits from wearing its heart on its sleeve. Plus, Jack Black’s far more understated than we’d expect him to be, and that’s always a pro. B