According to me, Michele Gondry is very creative at putting together music videos, but he shouldn’t bother making full-length films. According to everyone else I know, he burst forth from the head of Orson Welles with camera in hand.
According to me, Michele Gondry is very creative at putting together music videos, but he shouldn’t bother making full-length films. According to everyone else I know, he burst forth from the head of Orson Welles with camera in hand. I’m prepared to accept that divergence, seeing as how my previous position stood on shaky ground. I’d only seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which I loved) and The Science of Sleep (which I loved to hate). But now I can say with conviction that even though Gondry seems to have taken all the critics’ advice and made a film that’s a little more accessible to those of us not trying to sit through an arts-and-crafts show, he still can’t get anywhere close to Eternal Sunshine.
Gondry’s newest endeaver, Be Kind Rewind, is probably the most unsettling film I have ever seen. I don’t mean “unsettling” like that part in American History X where that guy bites the curb and Ed Norton stomps on his head. I mean “unsettling” like if you found filet mignon and caviar in your #4 meal from McDonald’s. You’d psyched yourself up for a delicious meal that may affect both your short-term and long-term health, and you’re not quite sure how to balance that with a palate-pleasing taste of elegance. (I’m so hungry right now, I’m really sorry, but these food analogies might continue.) Be Kind Rewind is a mixture of fun, DIY-style, cardboard Gondry stuff and probably the worst plot ever. Don’t believe me? Try Jack Black getting magnetized as he does something vague with microwaves and erasing every video in the shop in which his pal Mike (Mos Def) works. So that they won’t get in trouble, the two film their own version of Ghostbusters on the now blank tape (complete with Sta-Puf Marshmallow Man). Nobody’s fooled, but surprise! People actually liked their version, and within, like, a day, demand gets so high that they’re remaking films left and right.
The montages of Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike’s productions is the stuff viral YouTube videos are made of. Don’t get me wrong. But if the movie was, say, 90% those films and 10% plot material, we might have a cult favorite on our hands, if not a mainstream one. Movies that have been ingrained in our cultural memory, whether we know it or not, are so much fun to watch reenacted, it turns out. We’re enjoying them just as much as the line of people outside the video store, that is, until the mean old plot comes back into the mix. I couldn’t help thinking during the far too long scene in which Jerry “pees out” his “magnetization” (don’t worry, you’ll be able to see the attractive river of glowing urine in its full glory), “Gee, you know what? I bet during the man hours it took to film this scene, Gondry could have made a really funny montage of Mike and Jerry’s version of Saving Private Ryan.” But, horrors! Instead we have ages and ages of embarrassingly stupid plot about an old store that finds itself overwhelmed in the age of technology. I suppose that the idea of a neighborhood coming together to make their own versions of the world’s cinemas carries some sort of poignancy, but it ends up being slow and awkward.
I don’t know whether Jim Carrey is the perfect vessel for a straight man/silly man character and that’s why Eternal Sunshine was able to pull realism and fantasy together, but Black and the always adorable Mos Def are impossible to take seriously when we’re required to do so. And even if they were brilliant, comic geniuses, you can only do so much with a bad script. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Gondry, who clearly loves to quirk his way around a fantasy world, didn’t just stick to a series of vignettes, held together by the barest traces of plot. Instead, we’re subjected to about eight times as much boring, empty material that tries really hard to be laden with morality. And the worst thing about it is that it’s clearly directed well. That’s the filet mignon in your #4 meal. How do you mentally process something that’s directed like it has some sort of artistic value yet is entirely full of fluff? If you finally get a couple of guys to really do justice to the nonsensical style that is your trademark, why not make the film consist almost entirely of those scenes? Why not just start up a rabid YouTube following?
Luckily for Be Kind Rewind, the funny parts are so intensely funny that they impart a warm glow over your whole cinematic experience. You’re much more likely to remember the little Mike and Jerry productions* than you are Danny Glover droning on about something or other. In fact, even trying to pan this has made me feel like trying to find clips online. I’d sacrifice more than a few minutes to be able to watch Jack Black dressed like an old lady, hitting Mos Def across the head with a handbag, and calling him “Hokey.”** It’s these tender moments that salvage Be Kind Rewind by identifying an obvious love and respect for movies old and new. I can hang with that, sure. I’ll just skip over the dumb parts — that is, if this movie betrays its own VHS-loyalties and comes out on DVD. That’s a pretty risky little game, Gondry. A risky game.
*Mike and Jerry are helped throughout and had their skins saved more than once by neighborhood girl Alma (Melonie Diaz), who does just as much work on the projects as both of them together, yet is rarely referred to in the same breath as Mike and Jerry. How much do you want to bet that some production assistant of Michele Gondry’s is drawing some unflattering parallels as we speak?
**Driving Miss Daisy, duh.