19 October, 2008

The past belongs to us, and we can change it

So here's the thing.

When I first heard of the film Be Kind Rewind (see the trailer here), it was as a description - a couple of guys have to remake a lot of famous films - and a cast list, including Jack Black. I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, but little more than an different twist on the parody film.

Then I heard that Michel Gondry had written and directed the film, and it immediately became a lot more interesting to me. Gondry had directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favourite films from 2004, and written/directed The Science of Sleep, which I had really enjoyed at the 2006 festival. So I was certain the film would have a lot more to it than I first imagined. And I was right - it did try to explore some wider themes - but I'm not sure it really worked.

Jack Black stars as Jerry, an eccentric who plans to destroy a local power plant out of a paranoid belief that the plant is destroying his mind. Instead, his plan causes him to be magnetised(!), and when he goes to visit his friend at the local dollar-rental video library (all VHS tapes, no DVDs), the store's entire tape stock is erased. So, figuring the store's only regular customer won't notice the difference, the two decide to remake the films, starting with Ghostbusters. And very quickly, the remade films start to build a huge popularity in the local community. But then problems start to occur, the survival of the video shop is threatened, so everyone in the neighbourhood comes together for one final big project.

And here's the problem - the hook around which the story revolves (the remade films) doesn't really feel like there's any real connection with the major ideas of the film (which address issues like the renewal of community spirit). In fact, it feels like Gondry had the initial idea of the videos, and then tried to force some wider ideas into the script to justify the film's existence, and there's no natural integration of the ideas.

So while there is a nice homemade inventiveness to the video remakes (the B&W remake of King Kong being particularly clever, with Jerry creating an ape face from the cab of a toy truck(!) strapped to his face, and using forced perspective to fake Kong's size) that Gondry clearly enjoyed filming, the wider film isn't terribly convincing. To justify the plot, Gondry is forced to execute some extremely dumb ideas (magnetising Jerry? Really?) but such a goofy idea doesn't quite fit with much of the film. The story structure is appalling, with plot-threads introduced and then abandoned - Jack Black's fear of the power station never gets mentioned after he is magnetised, Gondry clearly struggled to find a way to de-magnetise Jerry before just having him urinate the magnetism out, while the MPAA taking action against copyright infringement get a couple of scenes but proves never to be the major conflict it initially seems. And while I can understand nostalgia for "the way things were", a theme that is extremely strong in the film, sometimes change is a good thing, and a video store with only VHS tapes (while necessary for the film plot) seems like a place resisting change for the sake of it, holding onto patently inferior product just because it's the way things used to be. And that just annoys me, because while the CD-vs-vinyl argument may be ongoing, no-one is ever going to prefer VHS over DVD or Blu-Ray, no matter how strong the nostalgia.

Still, while the film doesn't actually work as a whole, it is entertaining, with many laugh-out-loud moments. So while I am definitely critical of many aspects of the film, it's still worth seeing. It's not a great film, it is seriously flawed, but if you're wanting an fun film that you can just watch and enjoy, this is definitely worth your time.

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