Volume 94, Issue 63

Tuesday, January 16, 2001


A witty, thoughtful theatrical romp

Disc of the Week

State and Main gets an amber light

'62 Cuban Crisis revisited - 13 Days a rivetting political drama

State and Main gets an amber light

Gazette file photo
HEY BUDDY - DO YA WANNA SHAKE? It-girl Julia Stiles plays a small part in the satisfactory, but not outstanding new movie State and Main.

State and Main
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker
Directed By: David Mamet

By Chad Finkelstein
Gazette Staff

There is a very interesting and telling moment about the Hollywood movie industry found towards the end of State and Main. Screenwriter Joe White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) announces to his director, Walt Price (William H. Macy), "This isn't about you!" to which the self-righteous auteur snaps back, "Then who IS it about?"

Writer-director David Mamet's State and Main is the latest addition to the genre of movies about movie-making, but it's so suffocating in its self-reflexivity that it could choke any studio executive. The story is about a hectic, destructive film crew's invasion of the small town of Waterford, Vermont to shoot a movie entitled "The Old Mill."

The film attempts to show an exaggerated perspective of filmmaking to a public ignorant about it, while those on the inside of the business can smugly enjoy the parody of their colleagues. Thus, a lot of the jokes are likely to go over the heads of most viewers, unless they are religiously up-to-date enough on their Entertainment Weekly readings, to notice the insider minutiae.

That said, it is difficult to interpret if the intention of this movie was purely to mock the egotistical and outright ridiculous protocol of film production, or if one is expected to look through that and recognize the message of universal human fraility despite job description or tax bracket.

A logical guess would be the former, since snippets of dialogue like the aforementioned one only serve to reinforce our perception of Hollywood's narcisism. The movie helps to build on this perception to the point that the audience gets frustrated with celebrity fascination, but not before getting quickly injected with an alarming sense of jealousy as well.

State and Main is not an incredibly funny movie. Mamet, a respected playwright and screenwriter, has done much more profound work, including Glengarry Glen Ross and Wag the Dog. The latter was loaded with enough satire that the reservoir of humour might have run a bit dry for this outing.

Although State and Main runs at an enjoyable and light pace, it lacks comedy and a solidity in dialogue that his other scripts possess. This is not a boring movie, but it has little to offer in terms of entertainment value. It is buoyed, however, by its fluidity and its performances, most notably by William H. Macy. He is adept at capturing the cocky flair in reciting dialogue, while maintaining a grounded sensibility.

This quality is the only one held by the fictional film's leading man, Bob Barringer (Alec Baldwin), an actor so self-absorbed and detached from reality, one has to wonder if Baldwin is even acting at all.

Hoffman is perfectly suited for the role of the screenwriter who, quite ironically, is treated with as much respect as the caterers. His "Old Mill" script emphasizes a message of purity, which he struggles himself with comprehending and manipulating throughout the movie.

In the end, the screenwriter finds himself at a crossroads involving the sanctity of that very virtue, while State and Main teaches us that maybe Hollywood needs a lesson in purity itself, before it can churn out more scripts promoting it.

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