Michel Gondry | 2008 | 101 min | USA
Free from the dense writing of Charlie Kaufman, and past his first time out directing a script from his own computer, Michel Gondry has made his first successful narrative feature, and also his richest film to date. Be Kind Rewind stars a terrific ensemble cast comprised of Mos Def, Jack Black, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, a large number of non-actors who live in the community where it was filmed, and Melonie Diaz, who delivers a breakthrough performance.
The setup is that a mom and pop video store owned by Danny Glover, that rents VHS tapes exclusively risks being demolished unless its business improves so that its roof can be fixed. Danny Glover goes out of town for a week in order to research how other video stores work, and how he can improve business. In his absence, he leaves Mos Def in charge. Unfortunately, Jack Black lives nearby, becomes magnetized, and upon touching all of the tapes, the store's entire library is erased. Panicked, Mos Def and Jack Black pull out an old VHS camcorder, and with the help of Melonie Diaz, start recreating the films that are supposed to be on the now blank tapes. As more people rent the tapes, their following grows, and pretty soon, everyone and their cousin Skeeter want to see their favourite films remade by the gang.
Yes, the concept screams 'Michel Gondry' but the way its executed doesn't. For the first time, there are full characters with motivations that can be related to, and that are endearing. The familiar arts and crafts/cheapo effects that he's become known for, are a part of the story. They're not just awkward affectations that seem inserted without good reason. The film is about creativity. About creating without large means. About the fact that that the support of friends, family, and community are often all that you need to make your dreams come true. Yep! Read it again. It's that cheesy.
The film may start out as a light comedy full of scenes that are likely to make film nerds need either a new pair of underwear, or a good jaw rub for all of the smiling it induces; but it then turns into a sort of modern day... I'm taking a moment to be sure I want to type the words that follow. ... Okay. ... But then it turns into a sort of modern day It's a Wonderful Life. PHEW! I might regret that in a day or two, but I feel fine with it right now. It's not as good as It's a Wonderful Life. Few films are. But if I were to compare it to a film (which is what I'm doing), that's the one I'd compare it to. The community up on the screen, created by Gondry and the actors, feels like a real community. Likable characters, who seem to genuinely like (even love) each other. It's heartwarming, and maybe a bit too naive for jaded film students that think Eternal Sunshine... is one of the best films of the last ten years, but Be Kind Rewind is a treat for those of us who actually love film, and who still have a few bones left untouched by cynicism somewhere on our skeletons.
I'll definitely be seeing it again in theatres, but I really really hope that when it's released on video, it's released as a VHS tape of the film with a DVD attached to the front of the case. It would be the best home video package ever.