Michel Gondry has finally located a script to match his bazooka of whimsy. "Be Kind Rewind" doesn't share the insular, art-school qualities of his previous accomplishments ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "The Science of Sleep"); instead, the picture is a harmonious callback to low-fi filmmaking and community spirit, allowing Gondry a wide open meadow to let his viral creativity and mischievous determination frolic. It's an unexpected charmer.
Mike (Mos Def) works at a rundown Passaic, New Jersey video store under owner Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). Finding his street corner staple is about to be condemned, Mr. Fletcher considers a business of DVDs to keep up with the times. Off on a scouting mission, he leaves Mike in charge, and when newly-magnetized friend Jerry (Jack Black) steps inside the store after an awful power plant accident, they find all the VHS tapes have been erased. Panicked, the duo decide to create their own versions of the films wiped to cover for the loss, offering new "sweded" versions that the locals (including Mia Farrow) love. Now overwhelmed with requests, the team (with Melonie Diaz) hits the streets to shoot their askew take on Hollywood's biggest hits, hoping their popularity will save the store.
I've got nothing against Gondry and his limitless imagination, but there were times during the "Science of Sleep" where it felt like we were seeing the boundaries of his gimmicks; his college-radio creativity that's predictable in its unpredictability. Gondry certainly has a style all his own and while previous efforts might've captured more soulful meditations on the state of the head and heart, nothing he's made to date has demonstrated the bliss of filmmaking quite like "Rewind."
This is a fable, crossing the idea of comforting neighborhood myths with slapstick comedy pulled off with atypical ease by Gondry. "Rewind" is the most relaxed I've ever seen the writer/director, gently massaging the material for nuggets of irreverence and goofy, detail-oriented enchantment. He's deliriously in love with the mom and pop video store memories of days gone by, tenderly launching some jabs at today's Blockbuster mentality and the cold, mass availability of DVDs. For anyone who spent their youth poring over rows of VHS covers in dilapidated strip malls and converted convenience stores, "Rewind" is sure to be a diamond of nostalgia and 2/.99 Tuesday heartache. Gondry evokes the atmosphere of the fragile VHS glory days, while lamenting its demise for stronger, cheaper, more durable technology. It's been a motif in his cinema. If we all lived in Gondry's world, we'd still be listening to Victrolas while watching silent movies. Surely there are days when I couldn't argue with that desire.
The centerpieces of "Rewind" are the sweding sequences, both in their hilarious familiarity and in the sheer creativity Gondry reveals as he turns Hollywood excess and genuine magic into backyard playgrounds for our heroes. Watching Mike and Jerry use Christmas tinsel to recreate the proton streams of "Ghostbusters," spin around a road map to simulate a rooftop freefall for "Rush Hour 2," or out-Kubrick Kubrick with a junkyard "2001" centrifuge jog is highly contagious, resourceful fun, and is unmistakably the place where the film rockets off to another planet of visual invention. Perhaps Gondry has milked this homespun-special-effects teat before, but it's never found such symbiosis with a concept. It's endearing eye candy, especially for film fans, but it's offered in a relatable, piecemeal fashion that makes one want to grab a 1988 video camera and recreate "The Neverending Story" in the family basement.
The warmth extends throughout the entire movie, even climaxing on a gentle Capraesque melody that sends this zany picture out on the perfect note. "Be Kind Rewind" is a valentine to the movies and the powers of big-screen bonds, and I know for me it's the best narrative feature film to ever escape from Michel Gondry's infinite imagination.
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