89 – State and Main

David Mamet is known for writing and/or directing movies that contain, shall we say, mighty salty language. He’s not known for his soft side. In his movies, the “f word” is used as all of the eight main parts of speech. Don’t get me wrong, though, his scripts are among the best in the business (although sometimes you get the feeling that a movie he’s written was intended for the stage, as the actors seem talky to a fault).

In State and Main, a band of moviemakers descends upon a quiet town in Vermont to film a movie called “The Old Mill”. (The group was kicked out of a similar New Hampshire town during filming; they had to build an old mill, but when they were kicked out, the town held the mill for ransom.) Waterford, VT is the perfect little town, and the company quickly begins to work. Director Walt Price (William H. Macy) buddies up with the mayor (a corpulent man, who is understandly happy to have his town in a movie). Chaos invades the town, which alternately meets the challenge with bemusement and an eye for opportunity.

Price has a lot of problems on the set. His leading lady (Sarah Jessica Parker) has recently discovered religion and refuses to bare her breasts, as stipulated in her contract. His leading man (Alec Baldwin) has a bad habit of hooking up with underage girls (“Hey, everyone’s gotta have a hobby,” he’s fond of saying). His timid but honest screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) can’t write, since the company’s lost his trusty old typewriter.

And to top it all off, the town has no old mill. None. It had one, yes, but it burned down in the 1960s during a spate of mysterious fires. So to fix the problem, Price demands that Joe the screenwriter rewrite the movie to reflect the lack of a mill, which of course means changing the title.

Mamet does a wonderful job lampooning his own industry, and from some of the performances you get the idea that these folks aren’t acting as much as being themselves. Baldwin, for example, has long had the reputation of being a bit self-centered on the set, and the machinations of Price and his producer, Marty (David Paymer), are fun to watch.

This is a lively film. There’s plenty going on, although a lot does center on the problems and issues of Joe (who’s hardly ever called that in the movie; he’s usually just referred to as “the screenwriter”), who falls for the pretty and talented Ann (Rebecca Pidgeon), the organizer and main impetus for the town’s stage troupe. Hoffman’s portrayal is sincere and believeable, and his interaction with Pidgeon is a real treat. Mamet’s known for using the same actors in his movies, and Pidgeon and Macy are both regulars of his stock company. Some of the best directors employ this tactic, as it build loyalty among a group of actors. If you’re comfortable working with someone, then you might want to keep working with them, and if
the smoothness of this movie is any indication, Mamet worked pretty well with his excellent cast.

State and Main: 7


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