State and Main
2000, R, 102 min. Directed by David Mamet. Starring Patti Lupone, Julia Stiles, David Paymer, Charles Durning, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 12, 2001
Scandal!. Intrigue! Sex with Minors! Wanton Acts of Vandalism! It's got all the makings of a juicy movie script, but anyone who's ever picked up a copy of Hello!, People, or any other celeb ragsheet knows it's also the kind of luridness that's a fixture on movie sets. Most of us have at least a small, secret yearning to know what goes on behind the camera -- not the nuts-and-bolts stuff of tracking shots and best boys, of course, but rather, splashy accounts of tawdriness and temptation, bloated egos and professional backbiting. Writer-director David Mamet's State and Main delivers that splash, with the authority of an insider and the smirk of a dissident. Here, the movie's the thing: specifically, a big-budget Hollywood production steamrolls into a little Vermont town and raises some serious ruckus. (Cue the sex with minors and wanton acts of vandalism.) Basset-hound-faced William Macy stars as the harried director -- slick one second, cooing the next, or donning whatever face it takes to get his baby off the ground. The producer (a snarky Paymer) is an all-balls-out shark in a suit. The stars are a twin set of ego and mess-making: “The broad” (as played by ditzbomb Parker) has found God and demands another $800,000 to spiritually justify fulfilling the nudity clause in her contract, while the glassy-eyed, confidently dim, leading man (Baldwin) has an uneasy “hobby” of bedding underage girls. Mamet does a shrewdly skillful job with these Tinseltown terrors, but satires about Hollywood are no new thing (Altman's The Player was far more penetrating … and vicious). The real coup here is the indelible portrait of a “sleepy” small town just as warped as the L.A. set and the sweet, smart rendering of new love. In a film that makes its focal point the plasticity of both the Hollywood crew and the Vermonters who so desperately want to woo the stars, Mamet slides in an earnest, affectionate love story between Joe, the out-of-town scriptwriter (the singular Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Ann (Pidgeon), one of the locals. It is impossible to emphasize enough just how much of a cool breeze this love story is in relation to the rotting, fetid canon of made-to-order romantic comedies audiences are so frequently headbashed with (combine a forcibly “quirky” plot; sprinkle an impossibly cute child/dog/gay best friend; stir in Meg Ryan and blend on high for a homogenous brew.) The pairing of Hoffman and Pidgeon makes for a wooing of the old-fashioned, slow-moving kind and, in the midst of all the bloodletting, in that coupling beats the film's heart. State and Main will probably serve only as a footnote in Mamet's impressive body of work, pigeonholed as an exercise in industry satire or as a “slight” offering in his edgy assemblage. That's unfortunate, considering the accomplishment within: a director at the top of his game, coaxing thrills from each of his phenomenal cast members, and a writer who has softened his snaggle-toothed barbs for something gentler and more genuine.