Along with sound and color, the recordable magnetic tape has to be one of the most important technological advances in the history of cinema. It literally allowed the elitist conceits behind film fandom to become populist, even pedestrian. Beyond all the "everyone's a critic" caterwauling, VHS also made for a more communal experience when it came to creativity. It broadened the horizons of many who only knew what their local cineplex spoon-fed them. And one of the best examples of its lasting impact exists in Michel Gondry
's brilliant little allegory Be Kind Rewind. While it purports to be a clever comedy, it's really the celluloid significance of the '80s as an amiable analog fairytale.
With the city of Passaic, New Jersey threatening to condemn his tiny video rental store, old Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover
) must take some drastic steps. While off on a fact-finding trip to a major chain outlet, he leaves trusted employee Mike (Mos Def
) in charge. He has only one mandate -- keep the slightly crazy local mechanic Jerry (Jack Black
) out of the store. Seems the crackpot conspiracy theorist has a tendency to drive away the clientele. One day, after a botched break-in at the power plant that Jerry believes is brainwashing him, Mike discovers that all the tapes in the shop have been erased - and it's all magnetized Jerry's fault. With meddling Ms. Falewicz (Mia Farrow
) reporting back to Fletcher every day, the pair needs to do something to keep the business afloat. With Jerry as his star, and a dry cleaning clerk named Alma (Melonie Diaz
) as his assistant, Mike decides to "swede" all the missing films by reshooting them, quick and dirty. Oddly enough, their homemade versions are a huge hit. Article continues below
Be Kind Rewind is a raucous humoresque, another glorious Gondry goof that balances its hilarious remake material with the heartfelt story among the characters. It's also the biggest, most masterful love letter to the VCR and the resulting accessibility of cinema ever created. It's a celebration of Mom and Pop shops. And it's a genius dissection of the post-post-modern movement in film, from the established legends (video store clerk as maverick moviemaker? Hmmm…) to the current clichés (a tech savvy screwball who believes he innately understands the medium). In Black and Def, our director finds a perfect combo. Together, they take an obvious gimmick and make it soar.
From the opening sequences showing a Fats Waller biopic in progress, to a last act nod to Cinema Paradiso's communal embrace, there is much more going on here than amateur recreations of recognizable films. And indeed, the takes on Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, Driving Miss Daisy, and RoboCop (among others) are wonderfully witty. But it's what Gondry isn't giving us that's most important. Few probably realize that Jerry and Mike never use a script when making their verbatim "swedes" (the movie's term for the short form copies). Indeed, the subtext suggests that home video has made certain titles second nature to the obsessive. Even better, the issue of copyright is skewered when Sigourney Weaver, in a surprise cameo, turns up as a legalese-spouting suit out to destroy our heroes' dream.
It goes without saying that the acting is excellent. Def definitely carries the film, making Mike a wide-eyed innocent in a creative world desperate to undermine him. Black is just as believable, even if Jerry ends up on the silly end of some wildly whimsical slapstick. Diaz is a real discovery, her dictatorial perkiness a wonderful contrast to her co-stars slacker subtlety. But this is Gondry's baby all the way -- a reflection on the way convenience has forever altered the idea of what a movie really is. If you focus beyond the obvious, you'll easily pick up on his idiosyncratic wavelength. The results will blow you and your video cassette collection away.