Directed by David Mamet (2000)
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
This is another one that came out while I was working at the video store. Everyone that worked there then, except me, was going to school with hopes of working in film or stage productions. I was studying to be a mechanical engineer. They all loved this one, “The cast! Mamet! It’s so meta!” but for some reason it just didn’t feel like something I’d enjoy. Part of it was the box-art. Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker front and center just isn’t going to get me to put the tape in the VCR, but I also didn’t fully trust those art school kids.
Now it’s sixteen years later and I’m giving it a shot. I got a copy of the DVD from the local library and here we go.
The film opens with a film crew, led by William H. Macy, rolling into a small Vermont town looking for a new location. They got kicked out of New Hampshire due to the leading man’s, played by Alec Baldwin, tendency to fool around with underage girls. A number of issues prior to filming cause them to harass the writer, Philip Seymour Hoffman, into rewriting large portions of the script. The famous mill they planned on shooting at burned down decades ago. The leading lady refuses to do the nude scene. There’s something that needs to be done with the scene with the dead horse. Meanwhile, a local teen girl (Julia Stiles) decides to take advantage of Baldwin’s proclivities, Hoffman unintentionally but unapologetically breaks up an engaged couple (Rebecca Pidgeon and Clark Gregg), and Macy blows off dinner with the mayor and his wife (Charles Durning and Patti LuPone). In other words, “hilarity” ensues.
I won’t keep you in suspense. It’s not bad and I don’t begrudge anyone for enjoying it, but I didn’t care for the movie. It’s worth pointing out that you aren’t supposed to like a lot of things that I don’t like. All of the characters are one dimensional caricatures. The dialogue and delivery, by the locals especially, is jokey and hammy. It’s all intentional, painting a false world. Everything is a schtick, but I don’t get the pay-off. Much of it is even offensive.
You’re supposed to relate with the writer, but he’s just a schmoe that can’t manage to do his job. Instead he has to depend on the local bookseller (Pidgeon) for counseling and inspiration. She’s some angelic creature that trusts him completely and gives everything of herself to make him better.
Overall, the story is fairly entertaining. William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, David Paymer, and Philip Seymour Hoffman put in their standard ‘pretty good” performances, I’ve seen worse and far better from each of them. Julia Stiles outperforms and is fun to watch, for a change. But the movie is trying to be something more than all that, and it misses.
If this movie comes on and you’ve got nothing better going, feel free to sit and watch it, but don’t go out of your way to see it. Like the final line in the film (and best payoff it has to offer), “It beats working.”