State and Main Movie Review

In order to see one of 2000's real treasures, most of you are going to have to wait until January of 2001, when the masterful State and Main comes to a theater near you.

State and Main, written and directed by David Mamet (The Spanish Prisoner, The Winslow Boy, House of Games), follows a Hollywood film crew into the sleepy town of Waterford, Vermont, for the shooting of a would-be blockbuster. William H. Macy plays the director -- part ballbuster, part smooth-talker -- who comes to Waterford after the production kicked out of another lost-in-the-past New England locale.

Waterford is perfect for the period piece, and the crew descends on the village, upending the status quo, even turning geriatrics into movie star wannabes. Among the crew are David Paymer as the crazed producer who wants to score some cash for a product placement for "Bazoomer.com" despite the town's 1896 setting. (Note to enterprising cybersquatters: Mamet owns the domain already. I checked.) The excellent Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the stammering screenwriter, ironically unable to find his own words much of the time. Star and starlet are played by Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker, both in over-the-top roles that nail the Hollywood ego trip perfectly.

Notable townfolk include Julia Stiles as a barely pubescent teenager infatuated with Baldwin and determined to bed him (and which doesn't take much). Charles Durning plays the pushover, starstruck mayor to perfection, Patti LuPone his overbearing wife. And Rebecca Pidgeon -- aka Mrs. Mamet -- has a gem of a star turn as the wise-beyond-her-years, local bookstore owner trying to organize an amateur theater group -- who all abandon her when the film crew comes to town.

This story's been done before -- in fact, it's been done to death -- but never with such flair and pulling off such a perfect skewering of Hollywood. (In fact, Mamet has been over roughly this same ground recently with Wag the Dog.) Hilarious from start to finish, State and Main has so few lulls and so many memorable parts that it's hard not to be hungry for more after it's over. (Best line: "It's not a lie, it's a gift for fiction.")

Mamet juggles various intertwining plots (Parker doesn't want to do a nude scene, Baldwin wrecks his car with the girl inside, etc. etc.) with perfect aplomb. The best story line also happens to include the two best actors in the picture -- Hoffman and Pidgeon -- who find themselves in the most peculiar -- and believable -- romance I think I've ever seen on screen or off.

State and Main also stays light thanks to Mamet's backing away from his trademark clipped cadence, at least a little bit -- this dialogue is so good it transcends just about anything you could do to it. At the same time, the movie is full of depth, nuance, and themes-within-themes, courtesy of its movie-within-a-movie structure.

I'm giving State and Main an early line for at least four Oscars (including one for Hoffman's performance), not to mention my nod for best picture of the year-to-date. I hope this gem can get the buzz going. Go you Huskies!

State and Main might have been my #1 film of 2000, but the DVD is nothing special. The only real extra is a commentary track -- not by Mamet, but by five of the film's actors. Most of the commentary (a bunch of separate comments that have been pieced together) falls into the trap of narrating the action, and particularly trying to narrate the subtext of the film. Odd. William Macy and David Paymer have a few tips about writing, working with Mamet, and acting -- but overall the film stands better on its own.

The diner on Main.

Comments

State and Main Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 2000

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