State and Main

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 (ClaireWellesley), David Paymer (Marty Rossen), Charles Durning (Mayor George Bailey) PattiLuPone (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 Hollywoodfilmmakers 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'sbest writer/directors over the past 13 years, brings the same cutting insight into human foiblesand 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 themoral decay of the modern entertainment industry. Or, it could have veered in a completelydifferent direction and been a ridiculous slapstick farce. Wisely, Mamet doesn't take eitherroute, but rather melds elements of each and ends up with a brilliantly crafted fusion that isboth hilarious and endearing.

William H. Macy stars as Walt Price, the director of a movie project tentatively titled TheOld Mill. I say tentatively because it turns out there is no old mill in which tofilm (it was apparently burned down, along with half the town, in a spate of arson fires in the1960s). Therefore, the dedicated playwright-turned-screenwriter, Joseph Turner White (PhilipSeymour Hoffman), is put in the tough position of having to rewrite half the movie three daysbefore shooting.

At the beginning of the film, the crew has just been thrown out of their previous small-townlocation in New Hampshire for reasons that are left deliciously vague ("We cannever go back to New Hampshire," is all Walt will say). With only a few daysbefore principle photography begins, Walt and his crew find Waterford, Vermont, an almosthopelessly 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 upand, because there's no exercise facility, demands that his weights be sent Fed Ex fromCalifornia. Bob also has a taste for teenage girls, and the impending legal trouble is obviouswhen his eye lights upon high-school-age Carla Taylor (Julia Stiles), who works at the localdiner.

More problems ensue: The lead actress, a dim-bulb blond named Claire Wellesley (SarahJessica Parker) who is always complaining that people treat her like a child, suddenly decidesthat she is against doing the topless scene despite the fact that it is written into the $3-millioncontract she has already signed ... unless, of course, she's paid an additional $800,000 (one ofthe themes is the ease in which morality can be changed by cash). The problem, as themovie's harried producer Marty Rossen (David Paymer) points out, is that the production isalready out of money. They could accept a proposed product placement that would net them$1 million, except for that it's for a company, and the movie is set in 1895 (theproduct 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 thescreenwriter, Joseph, who is stuck in the classic Hollywood predicament of wanting to staytrue to his art without selling out. He befriends Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon), the localbook-store owner and drama club leader, who helps him rethink the troubled script. When heasks her how to deal with a movie titled The Old Mill when there can't be a millinvolved, 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 theresults are marvelously effective. Mamet has always been a master of staging conflict betweenpeople (in fact, it is the cornerstone of his art), yet here he is adept at showing two peoplecoming together on common ground and slowly falling in love. In fact, even when potentialconflict does arrive in the form of Ann stumbling in on a naked Claire awkwardly attemptingto seduce Joseph, Mamet lets the scene play out in a completely unexpected and gentlefashion.

Of course, State and Main is primarily a comedy that is built around a constantlyescalating catastrophic situation. The last third of the film turns into a circus as Bob isembroiled in accusations of statutory rape, and the local prosecutor, with dreams of making aname for himself, brings it immediately to court. Joseph is stuck in a moral quagmire becausehe is the one witness who could prove Bob's guilt, but by telling the truth in court, he isessentially guaranteeing that he will never work in Hollywood again. Once again, Mametdeals with a potentially contrived situation in an inspired manner, throwing in last minute plottwists and resolving the problem in a manner that is both utterly cynical and wonderfullywarm-hearted. That he can manage such a seemingly impossible balancing act is testament tohis 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 anddealers and the small-town folk caught in the crosshairs--that truly makes State andMain work. On either side Mamet could have gone overboard and veered intosimple-minded caricatures. Although the situations are often exaggerated, Mamet keeps thecharacters true to themselves and he allows them to maintain dignity, even when involved indevious 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 afew other locals sit awkwardly around a beautifully set dining room table after having beenstood up by the Hollywood big shots for a dinner party. The scene is both funny andtouching, but Mamet ensures in the end that we know that the mayor, despite being the lonemember 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 perfectlybalanced throughout. Funny, satirical, and touching, State and Main is a film not tobe missed.

State and MainDVD

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

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

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

Supplements on this disc are somewhat light. Thesometimes screen-specific audio commentary misses out by not including writer/directorDavid Mamet, but stars William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Clark Gregg, DavidPaymer, and Patti LuPone do everything they can to make up for it. Although all recordedseparately, 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'sabsence by talking about him quite a bit and discussing his techniques, some of whichsurprised me, especially his willingness to improvise on-set.

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

©2000, 2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (4)

James Kendrick

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