State And Main

State And Main (2000)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Charles Durning, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sarah Jessica Parker, William H. Macy
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew Biographies

Nobody likes to be the butt of a joke. This especially holds true for people or entities who take themselves very seriously and feel superior to others, such as Hollywood. This fact makes David Mamet’s skewering of the film industry in his latest film "State and Main" all the more delicious. Mamet pulls no punches as he pulls back the curtain and shows us the kind of bizarre things going on behind the scenes. As "State and Main" arrives on DVD, anyone who loves movies should be interested in this film.

"State and Main" tells the story of a small film crew who is making a film called "The Old Mill". After being kicked out of New Hampshire for mysterious reasons, the crew has moved to the small hamlet of Waterford, Vermont. Director Walt Price (William H. Macy) is confident that he’s now found the perfect place to shoot his film, mostly due to the fact that the town boasts of their historic old mill. With screenwriter Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in tow, Price awaits the arrival of his two stars, Bob Barrneger (Alec Baldwin) and Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker), so that filming may commence.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Waterford calm and quiet exterior, yields a hornet’s nest of problems for the film crew. A major obstacle presents itself (I won’t spoil it for you), and Joseph is forced to re-write the script, despite the fact that his typewriter is missing. He finds solace in local shopkeeper, Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon). Although Ann is engaged to Doug (Clark Gregg), a hyperactive politician, she finds herself falling for Joseph. Meanwhile, Bob is about to get himself into serious legal trouble and Claire decides that she wants to back out of her contract. All the while, the locals, led by Mayor George Bailey (Charles Durning), who were very excited about having a movie shot in their town, are growing tired of the constant demands of the film company. When producer Marty Rossen (David Paymer) arrives in Waterford to try and straighten things out, all of the differing storylines collide, and several of the characters are forced to make life-changing decisions.

"State and Main" is that rare film that can make you laugh out loud and think at the same time, and it’s one of the best films that I’ve seen this year. For starters, the film is simply hilarious. David Mamet is known for his ability to create realistic characters and wonderful dialogue, and with "State and Main" he turns that talent towards the funny-bone. The film astutely combines very broad humor with more subtle and cynical comedy. Trust me when I say that you’ll be quoting the film soon after you see it. An interesting note about the humor in "State and Main" is that no one steals the show. Each character gets in their funny comment, and it accentuates the appeal of the already stellar ensemble cast. For further hilarity, make sure that you watch and listen to all of the end credits.

On the other side of the coin, "State and Main" is also a serious drama which explores the dark depths of man’s soul and the often times bizarre art of filmmaking. "State and Main" presents the viewers with several moral dilemmas throughout the film, and then twists the screw further by having us cheer for the immoral. All the while, the Hollywood people only care about one thing: making the movie. At first glance, Mamet seems to be feeding the audience the old cliché that in Hollywood one must sell their soul to survive, but given the tongue-in-cheek nature of the humor, and the fact that Mamet often plays by his own rules, I think this kind of reading would be presumptuous. Mamet is giving us a (fairly) realistic portrayal of the insanity, which goes into fimmaking and some of the dubious choices that it entails.

Obviously, I enjoyed "State and Main", but what I can’t understand is why it didn’t do more at the box office during its theatrical run. It must have something to do with the fact that the film was marketed as an art-house movie, when it really isn’t. Yes, the overall experience of watching "State and Main" will be maximized if you know something about how things work in Hollywood, but this knowledge isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying the film. Aside from the lampooning of filmmaking, "State and Main" offers more mainstream jokes and a sweet love story. Also, it’s a bit of a leap to assume that middle-America wouldn’t understand "State and Main". Mamet himself seems to drive that point home, as the movie features two "good old boys" characters, who just happen to enjoy reading ‘Variety!’ With its cast of well-known faces and stunning script, there’s something for everyone in "State and Main".

New Line Home Video brings us the DVD release of "State and Main". The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. (For those of you who fall into MGM’s demographic, the full-frame version of the film is also on the disc.) As is to be expected from New Line, the digital transfer is nearly flawless. The image shows a very fine sheen of grain during some daytime shots, but other than that, the picture is beautiful. There is no intrusive noise, artifacting effects, or distortion. This transfer perfectly reproduces the natural color palette, which Mamet chose to use, bringing us the beautiful reds, blues, and greens of the small town. The framing appears to be accurate, and the image is stable throughout.

This divine transfer is accompanied by a fine <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack. As this is a dialogue-driven dramedy, the surround sound mix is subtle, yet effective. The dialogue is always clear and audible, with no distinct hissing. But, check out Chapter 11, when a thunderstorm is raging, and you’ll experience the power that this soundtrack possesses, as the thunder fills the rear speakers and excites the subwoofer.

The DVD of "State and Main" only contains a handful of special features, highlighted by the <$commentary,audio commentary>. This track features stars William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Clark Gregg, David Paymer, and Patti Lupone. In the great tradition of New Line DVDs, this isn’t a group commentary, but a series of separate commentaries, which have been skillfully edited together to give it coherency and make as many of the comments scene specific as possible without having the speakers get off the subject to often. It contains some amusing anecdotes and we do learn about the making of the movie.

The DVD also features the theatrical trailer for "State and Main", which has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. We are also treated to cast and crew filmographies.

I had planned on starting this review by stating that "State and Main" must be a weird movie, because Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a fairly normal character. But, "State and Main" can only be considered unusual because it’s a truly entertaining film, offering many laughs. The DVD brings us a stunning transfer and an interesting comedy. If you read this site, you probably like movies, and if you like movies, you’ll like "State and Main". I can’t help but wonder if all of this praise will get me an associate producer credit.