Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
The corner of State and Main streets in the tiny, impossibly picturesque burg of Waterford, Vermont, plays an important role in David Mamet’s latest film, but the most fascinating intersection in sight is that between Mamet’s acerbic wit and the daffy, generous worldview of Preston Sturges. While the Coen brothers ostentatiously invoke Sturges in the title of their new road movie, O Brother Where Art Thou, State and Main’s idiosyncratic ensemble of Hollywood sharks and small-town minnows comes closer to capturing the whirligig spirit of such masterpieces as The Palm Beach Story and Hail the Conquering Hero, while simultaneously retaining a distinctively Mametian rhythm. (‘Waterford, Vermont,’ a character explains over the phone. ‘Where is it? It’s – that’s where it is.’) Not merely the year’s best movie, it’s also the funniest film in recent memory, with more razor-sharp, spit-out-your-popcorn one-liners thrown away in any given scene than can be found in two dozen ordinary comedies put together.
Hyperbole, you charge? Your skepticism is understandable. Mamet’s previous work as a film director, though consistently impressive… hasn’t been notable for its gut-busting qualities. Nor does State and Main’s high-concept premise – arrival of film crew upends life in New England hamlet – exactly promise to break new ground. Truth be told, most of the film’s scenarios are chestnuts, but that’s not important; Mamet’s halting/repetitive dialogue crackles like an open fire, fueled further by Theodore Shapiro’s loping, insistent score. Equally effective is the author’s penchant for withholding information: he repeatedly hints at, but never quite divulges, bizarre skeletons in Waterford’s communal closet, and the belated revelation of the film-within-the-film’s working title makes for one of the most satisfying sight gags I’ve ever seen.
Most remarkable and refreshing of all, Mamet genuinely seems to care about some of these folks, as opposed to valuing their strategic utility. In this, he’s aided by the ever-brilliant (it’s almost becoming redundant) Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose flummoxed charisma makes conflicted screenwriter Joseph Turner White the most lovable character ever to emerge from Mamet’s manual typewriter. And I’m somewhat alarmed to find myself developing a slight crush on Rebecca Pidgeon (a.k.a. Mrs Mamet), whose rigid, almost autonomic work in Homicide and The Spanish Prisoner gave no hint of the casual sexiness she evinces here. And William H. Macy – sorry, there are no words. Just see the movie! — Mike D’Angelo, Time Out NY, 14/12/00