Monday, March 17, 2008

Movies: Be Kind Rewind

Wow. This is the most genuine "feel-good movie" I have ever seen—as in, it actually made me feel good. And I mean good. Not nice, not happy, but good—as if humanity is something to celebrate, rather than something to eradicate immediately for the greater benefit of the rest of the bloody solar system. As if people are creative and inspired and excited and social, rather than numb and bored and lonely and isolated. Because they are. We just see it so rarely that when it does come along, we walk out of the theater grinning like happy fools. Which we are.

You probably know the plot: Jerry (Jack Black, in a brilliant return to true Jack Blackism, after an ill-fated foray into the serious) becomes magnetized in a bungled attempt at power-plant sabotage and erases all the tapes at the Be Kind Rewind video rental shop in Passaic, NJ, where his buddy Mike (Mos Def, who has enough pride not to switch to his birth name for his film roles) is in charge while the boss, old Mr. Fletcher (in an almost-but-not-quite-magic-negro role) is at the nearby chain competitor, doing secret reconnaissance; the building that houses his shop (and his home, upstairs), has been condemned, and he needs to raise enough money quickly to perform the necessary repairs, or else close up shop and move out to the projects. Desperate to keep Mr. Fletcher from finding out that there's been a problem, the two friends recreate Ghostbusters (a 20-minute version) using a video camera, their two selves, whatever props they can find in the junkyard where Jerry lives (in a perhaps-abandoned trailer), and a lot of tinfoil. Oddly enough, the young thugs who end up watching the tape love it, and come back for more. Next thing you know (and thanks to the business cunning of Alma (Melonie Diaz), enlisted from the local dry cleaners to play all the female roles, Be Kind Rewind has more demand than it has ever had before, with lines out the door and customers coming all the way from Manhattan for the special "Sweded" movies (an extension of a hilariously bad excuse why they take 24 hours to produce—they must be imported from Sweden), while the threesome remakes film after film, eventually involving the community as actors as well, just to help keep up with the demand (and to appeal, a bit, to a kind of positive hubris).

Jack Black makes a disturbingly good Jackie Chan (Rush Hour 2), but the film's longest movie-making montage (with an absolutely amazing 2001 bit, along with basically brilliant bits from all sorts of other movies) is really a treat for anyone who loves movies. I'm the sort of sucker who always falls for books about writing books, and movies about making movies (CQ happens to be my favorite), but that's because it's these books and movies that wear their hearts on their sleeves; Michel Gondry loves making movies (you already knew that from watching the similarly brilliant opening scenes of The Science of Sleep), and you can't help but fall in love with his love. The more you love movies in general, the more you will love this movie; its plot isn't particularly filled with intellect-bending twists (there were, in fact, a number of children in the audience with me, and they laughed at every joke just as gleefully as the adults did), but who needs existential when you've got cardboard and aluminum foil ?

During the film's crescendo, the community comes together (I know it sounds trite, but it isn't, I swear) after the FBI comes and destroys all their Sweded movies under federal copyright law. They decide make one more film—this time an original: a fictional documentary about jazz pianist Fats Waller, who was from Passaic and was born and lived in the condemned Be Kind Rewind building (a kind of bedtime story turned myth turned fact, perpetrated by Mr. Fletcher when he was raising Mike. In black-and-white, recorded with an old fan blowing in front of the camera to produce the flicker of old film stock, this short is so good—so creative, so tender, so grassroots-ad-hoc-beautiful—that it dropped my jaw and made me laugh and cry simultaneously (I'm a sucker for jazz, but still. . .) Mike and Jerry project the movie on a white sheet hung in the window of the Be Kind Rewind store for the premier screening and, as you can imagine, the image can be seen from outside, too, and all the residents of Passaic who hadn't been involved, all the cops who had hassled Jerry in his trailer night after night, the construction workers gathered to begin wrecking on the building, and even the city planning official who condemned the building in the first place, have stood outside watching, and have, of course, been won over. And even if happy endings like that don't make you feel good, you'll already be feeling overwhelmingly good from the preceding action.

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