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State and Main
Director: David Mamet
Screenplay: David Mamet
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Joseph Turner White), Rebecca Pidgeon (Ann Black), William H. Macy (Walt Price), Alec Baldwin (Bob Barrenger), Sarah Jessica Parker (Claire Wellesley), David Paymer (Marty Rossen), Charles Durning (Mayor George Bailey) Patti LuPone (Sherry Bailey), Julia Stiles (Carla Taylor), Ricky Jay (Jack Taylor)
MPAA Rating:R
Year of Release: 2000
Country: USA
State and Main Poster

David Mamet's State and Main is a sly comedy about a crew of Hollywood filmmakers who descend on a picturesque small town in Vermont and turn it upside down. The film is both cynical and big-hearted, and it is extremely funny.

Mamet, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who has developed into one of American's best writer/directors over the past 13 years, brings the same cutting insight into human foibles and conflict that fueled his acerbic dramas and uses it brilliantly for comedic purposes. Twisted just slightly, State and Main could have been a caustic drama about the moral decay of the modern entertainment industry. Or, it could have veered in a completely different direction and been a ridiculous slapstick farce. Wisely, Mamet doesn't take either route, but rather melds elements of each and ends up with a brilliantly crafted fusion that is both hilarious and endearing.

William H. Macy stars as Walt Price, the director of a movie project tentatively titled The Old Mill. I say tentatively because it turns out there is no old mill in which to film (it was apparently burned down, along with half the town, in a spate of arson fires in the 1960s). Therefore, the dedicated playwright-turned-screenwriter, Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is put in the tough position of having to rewrite half the movie three days before shooting.

At the beginning of the film, the crew has just been thrown out of their previous small-town location in New Hampshire for reasons that are left deliciously vague ("We can never go back to New Hampshire," is all Walt will say). With only a few days before principle photography begins, Walt and his crew find Waterford, Vermont, an almost hopelessly Norman Rockwellesque small town, complete with main street and old fire station, that is perfect for their needs.

So, Hollywood descends on Vermont. The big star, Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin), shows up and, because there's no exercise facility, demands that his weights be sent Fed Ex from California. Bob also has a taste for teenage girls, and the impending legal trouble is obvious when his eye lights upon high-school-age Carla Taylor (Julia Stiles), who works at the local diner.

More problems ensue: The lead actress, a dim-bulb blond named Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) who is always complaining that people treat her like a child, suddenly decides that she is against doing the topless scene despite the fact that it is written into the $3-million contract she has already signed ... unless, of course, she's paid an additional $800,000 (one of the themes is the ease in which morality can be changed by cash). The problem, as the movie's harried producer Marty Rossen (David Paymer) points out, is that the production is already out of money. They could accept a proposed product placement that would net them $1 million, except for that it's for a dot.com company, and the movie is set in 1895 (the product placement does wind up being included in a wonderfully inspired sight gag).

As a playwright-turned-screenwriter-turned-director, Mamet's heart is obviously with the screenwriter, Joseph, who is stuck in the classic Hollywood predicament of wanting to stay true to his art without selling out. He befriends Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon), the local book-store owner and drama club leader, who helps him rethink the troubled script. When he asks her how to deal with a movie titled The Old Mill when there can't be a mill involved, she replies plainly, "Well, first you're going to have to change the title."

Mamet deals delicately with the growing relationship between Joseph and Ann, and the results are marvelously effective. Mamet has always been a master of staging conflict between people (in fact, it is the cornerstone of his art), yet here he is adept at showing two people coming together on common ground and slowly falling in love. In fact, even when potential conflict does arrive in the form of Ann stumbling in on a naked Claire awkwardly attempting to seduce Joseph, Mamet lets the scene play out in a completely unexpected and gentle fashion.

Of course, State and Main is primarily a comedy that is built around a constantly escalating catastrophic situation. The last third of the film turns into a circus as Bob is embroiled in accusations of statutory rape, and the local prosecutor, with dreams of making a name for himself, brings it immediately to court. Joseph is stuck in a moral quagmire because he is the one witness who could prove Bob's guilt, but by telling the truth in court, he is essentially guaranteeing that he will never work in Hollywood again. Once again, Mamet deals with a potentially contrived situation in an inspired manner, throwing in last minute plot twists and resolving the problem in a manner that is both utterly cynical and wonderfully warm-hearted. That he can manage such a seemingly impossible balancing act is testament to his skill as a writer and his love of his characters.

In fact, it is Mamet's genuine affection for his characters--both the Hollywood wheelers and dealers and the small-town folk caught in the crosshairs--that truly makes State and Main work. On either side Mamet could have gone overboard and veered into simple-minded caricatures. Although the situations are often exaggerated, Mamet keeps the characters true to themselves and he allows them to maintain dignity, even when involved in devious schemes and succumbing to the greed.

For instance, note how Mamet treats the town's portly and amiable mayor (Charles Durning). In a perfectly played scene that elicits a great deal of sympathy, the mayor and his wife and a few other locals sit awkwardly around a beautifully set dining room table after having been stood up by the Hollywood big shots for a dinner party. The scene is both funny and touching, but Mamet ensures in the end that we know that the mayor, despite being the lone member of the city council of a town that isn't even on most maps, is not a doormat.

It is like that, in scene after scene. Mamet walks a tightrope, but he keeps the film perfectly balanced throughout. Funny, satirical, and touching, State and Main is a film not to be missed.

State and Main DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 / 1.33:1
AudioDolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
Supplements Audio commentary by Sarah Jessica Parker, William H. Macy, Clark Gregg, David Paymer, and Patti LuPone
Original theatrical trailer
Cast and crew filmographies
Script-to-screen (DVD-ROM)
Original theatrical web site (DVD-ROM)
DistributorNew Line Home Entertainment

As we have come to expect from New Line, State and Main is presented in a virtually flawless anamorphic widescreen transfer (although the jacket says it's 2.35:1, it is actually presented in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio). The picture is clear and crisp throughout, with great detail, natural flesh tones, and strong, beautiful colors that accentuate the picturesque setting (check out the lushness of the green trees contrasted against the bright white church in the first scene). Black levels are solid throughout, and there is not a hint of dust, grain, or other visual artifacts to be found. Also included on the disc is a full-frame version of the film, which adds just a tiny bit to the top and bottom of the image but crops off quite a bit from one or both sides, depending on the framing.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is solid as well, although, as State and Main is primarily dialogue-driven, it doesn't have many opportunities to stand out. The funky music over the opening credits sequence is nicely arranged and spaced out, and there are a few instances of imaging and directionality, such as Bob Baranger's car wreck. Otherwise, the soundtrack is notable mainly for its clarity and fidelity.

Supplements on this disc are somewhat light. The sometimes screen-specific audio commentary misses out by not including writer/director David Mamet, but stars William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Clark Gregg, David Paymer, and Patti LuPone do everything they can to make up for it. Although all recorded separately, the five actors are nicely edited together into an engaging commentary that (naturally) focuses a lot on character development and acting. They make up for Mamet's absence by talking about him quite a bit and discussing his techniques, some of which surprised me, especially his willingness to improvise on-set.

The only other DVD supplements are cast and crew filmographies and the original theatrical trailer, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 surround. Those with access to a DVD-ROM drive and a PC can enjoy a script-to-screen comparison and surf through the original web site.

Overall Rating: (4)

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