Release Date: Feb. 22, 2008
Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Michel Gondry
Cinematographer: Ellen Kuras
Starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover and Mia Farrow
Studio Information: New Line Cinema, 101 mins.
Although filmmaker Michel Gondry is best known for lush, dreamlike visual effects
, he's long indulged a fascination with low-tech effects in his short films, music videos and television commercials. He animated the White Stripes in Lego blocks, and even in his most recent feature film, The Science of Sleep
, he accented the melancholy mood with construction paper and cotton balls.. In that light, Be Kind Rewind
may be the truest distillation yet of his fascination, because it hangs everything on an ephemeral love of do-it-yourself video making.
The story is beyond ridiculous: Jerry (played by Jack Black at his silliest) lives in a trailer under a power plant. When the plant is struck by lightning he becomes magnetized and thereafter erases videotapes that come near him, which is pretty bad news for the VHS video store where he hangs out. To cover for the disaster of a store full of blank tapes, Jerry and store clerk Mike (Mos Def) hastily recreate popular movies like Ghostbusters with their own ancient video camera. Much to their surprise, the no-budget remakes become neighborhood favorites.
Thanks to a story that may have been put into production before the ink on the napkin was dry, the film seems to be unsalvageable from the get-go. The jokes are slow off the mark, and even Gondry’s usual visual flair is largely missing, appearing only in brief flourishes like in an impressively constructed montage that shows the guys rapidly shooting scene after scene with a band of neighborhood extras.
But with a skill that is difficult to pinpoint, Gondry seems to stumble like a fox from this paper-thin plot into a precious little ode to community that seems both touching and sincere. This is no small feat considering the film bears little resemblance to anything in the real world—no real communities, no real details of filmmaking and no portrayal of some long-lost heyday of amateur video.
If there's a secret to why a wispy film that sounds like such a failure has been able to turn even jaded audiences a little misty, it may be Gondry's desire to bring everyone into the club. The entire cast, which includes Mia Farrow and Danny Glover, seems to be having a heck of a time making a film that's so comfortable with its silliness that it can even pull off a joke about blackface without being offensive. It’s a film that seems unwilling to go an inch out of its meandering way to impress you or make you smile, which may be why it’s such a surprise when it occasionally manages both.