I’ll be honest. In the last couple months, if I wanted a quick laugh, I’d watch the Be Kind Rewind trailer. So, I’ve been anticipating this movie for a while. And that Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) was writing and directing certainly kept that excitement brewing.
Who couldn’t like the premise? Mike (Mos Def) is taking care of Be Kind Rewind, a video store that still rents out VHS tapes. Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), the owner of the Passaic, NJ store, doesn’t truck with your fancy, shiny DVDs. And Jerry (Jack Black), magnetized because . . . well, because he’s Jack Black, really . . . erases all the tapes. So when one of Mr. Fletcher’s beloved customers demands Ghostbusters, Jerry and Mike get the bright idea to re-shoot the film, with themselves as the entire cast and crew. Once the neighborhood finds out about their unique films, the formerly empty store has lines out the door, and an inbox of movies to be sweded, their invented term for this type of film.
Fantastic conceit. And it works excellently while Jerry and Mike are remaking films which, thankfully, is much of the movie. Gondry gives us montages of Jerry, Mike, their friend Alma (Melonie Diaz) and other neighborhood residents making their movies. Much of the joy is watching how they cobble together their special effects to loosely recreate scenes from familiar and not so familiar favorites (Umbrellas of Cherbourg?).
But Gondry seems to have sweded together the rest of his film from a mass of other movie cliches. We have an evil developer who wants to get rid of a favorite neighborhood locale, a love triangle that goes nowhere, a confrontation about leaving the small town, a conflict between the big chain video store and Be Kind Rewind. And nothing in these other plots really coheres.
I mean, Sigourney Weaver is parachuted in for a single thankless and, even worse, consequenceless scene as a copyright lawyer. Gondry obviously wanted a reason for the tapes to be threatened as an excuse for the next film that Jerry and Mike make, and so he tossed something against the wall to fill in the gap.
Jack Black is just let free to do as he pleases, meaning he plays an absurd man-child who feels it is entirely reasonable to wear a suit made out of aluminum foil to protect himself from “them.” By the end of the film, Jerry’s paranoia is just left behind.
And, to tell you how vague Gondry’s writing is, I still can’t answer the following question: Is Mos Def’s character mildly developmentally disabled? Seriously. I don’t know.
I mean, Passaic is filled with people who are childlike and prone to gather in warm, clapping crowds on the street, and maybe Mike is just . . . more so.
I think that Be Kind Rewind is trying to say something about our ability to create our own reality from our fantasies or those of others, especially in light of the final film the Passaic group makes.
In our Web 2.0 world where user-created content is king, this seems both obvious and simplistic, doubly so by putting that message in the skeleton of cliche. The scenes of Jerry and Mike creating are genuinely exuberant and are worth watching, but I wish Gondry had just put those loosely connected sequences on YouTube and been done with it.