Be Kind Rewind

Movie Information

The Story: When all the VHS tapes are accidentally erased at a failing rental store, the clerk and his friend decide to remake the lost inventory themselves. The Lowdown: One of the most charming, joyous and creative films you're likely to see this year -- or most years. No, it's not realistic. It's better than realistic: It's loving.
Genre: Comedy With Fantastic Overtones
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Melonie Diaz, Irv Gooch
Rated: PG-13

Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind is the first truly wonderful film of 2008. My guess is that it will end up still being one of the year’s great films come December. It will undoubtedly be the most loved as far as I’m concerned. I can truly say that I love this movie without even the slightest hint of reservation.

For my money, it’s the best work Gondry has ever done—and that’s saying something for the man who made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2006). It has more in common with the underrated Science than with the somewhat overrated (including by me) Eternal Sunshine, but it’s without the darker undercurrents of both. There isn’t a single cynical or annoying postmodern snarky frame in Be Kind Rewind‘s entire 101-minute length. That is its greatness—and possibly its curse as concerns its box-office potential.

There’s a trick to watching Be Kind Rewind. In order to go with the film, the viewer has to make the single small leap to accept a world in which a VHS-rental store could still exist and be run by a guy who is completely unaware of the existence of DVDs. That’s not much to ask, but if the idea bothers you, go see something else rather than wasting your time complaining that it’s “not realistic,” because you’ll have missed the point.

Gondry’s film is set in a rundown corner of Passaic, N.J., and centers around the video store of Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), which is run by Fletcher and his adopted son, Mike (Mos Def). The ramshackle store is on the verge of being demolished to make way for urban development—an event that not only will destroy a building Fletcher insists was the birthplace of legendary jazz great Fats Waller, but will find Fletcher and Mike relocated to “the projects.” The only hope lies in Fletcher making thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of repairs and improvements to bring the building up to code—a seemingly impossible task. The likelihood of this changes when Fletcher goes off (ostensibly to a Fats Waller celebration held in the train car where Waller died!) to research why his store is failing, and what he needs to do to save it.

In his absence, Mike’s goofy friend, Jerry (Jack Black—for once just right for the part), manages to (fantastically) get himself magnetized during an attempt to sabotage the electrical substation next to his motor home. The magnetization causes him to inadvertently erase all the tapes in the store. Since there’s no way to quickly locate a VHS replacement copy of Ghostbusters for Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), a customer who threatens to tell Fletcher that Mike and Jerry are ruining the store, the duo set out to recreate the film on their own with a camcorder and a lot of low-tech ingenuity.

The surprise is that their 20-minute redo is a hit, and a market for more titles springs up out of nowhere. Mystifyingly palming off the extra charge for their “Sweded” versions of movies by claiming they’re imported from Sweden (despite being obviously made in Passaic), the store starts making money and Mike and Jerry become celebrities. They even get a quasi-girlfriend, Alma (Melonie Diaz, Lords of Dogtown), though neither quite admits to the attraction, and Alma herself is of the opinion that Mike is actually in love with Jerry. All this comes crashing down when the FBI butts in with a great whacking copyright infringement suit. But there’s still a solution—maybe.

That’s the basic plot, but plot isn’t what’s at the heart of this movie—and I use the word “heart” deliberately. Gondry has merely used the plot to celebrate community, friendship, love, creativity, making something out of nothing and the power of myth to sometimes be greater than truth. Maybe most of all, he’s out to celebrate the magic of movies—and the ability of movies to bond us. And he does so with the enthusiasm of every backyard filmmaker who ever existed, charting the growth from childish imitations of other people’s movies to the creation of one’s own art. (As a backyard filmmaker himself, Gondry is being nearly autobiographical in this regard.)

Perhaps there’s a Luddite streak in Gondry, since he so celebrates the handmade over slick production values. And maybe we’re at a time when that’s not such a bad trait, with the movies—and just about everything else—turning out such an array of polished “untouched by human hands” dreck. He’s never mean-spirited about it, and what he shows us produced in this backyard manner is surprisingly effective, raising the question of how much we need—or don’t need—all the technology available to us. It’s all sweet, funny, clever and moving—and it knows exactly when to stop. This is simply a wonderful movie.

Unfortunately—in a move reminiscent of the handling of Across the Universe—the distributors have chosen to only open Be Kind Rewind at one area theater, and not one in Asheville. Whether, like Across the Universe, this will expand in the next week or so, I don’t know. I do know this is one movie worth the drive to Hendersonville—and then some. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

28 thoughts on “Be Kind Rewind

  1. Ken Hanke

    It is out. It’s currently playing at the Epic in Hendersonville. I got word late yesterday afternoon that it will be opening at the Fine Arts next Friday, March 7.

  2. liam

    wow so I have to go to hendo to see it – it must not interest mainstream avl much , give it up to the hendo crew

  3. Ken Hanke

    While I applaud the Epic for booking it, these things are largely a matter of distributor decisions. And this one frankly baffles me, because Michel Gondry’s SCIENCE OF SLEEP did well in Asheville, while his ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS mind played in town so long that viewers were driving here from Columbia SC to see it.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Is that supposed to have a comma as in “Mos Def rules, you all”? If so, in this case, I’d agree that he most certainly does “rule” in this movie.

    Now if you are saying that Mr. Def rules us all, thereby promoting him to regal status or possibly even deifying him, then, by Clapton, you go too far.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Took a break from dealing with such weighty matters as 10,000 B.C. and went to the 7 p.m. showing of BE KIND REWIND at the Fine Arts, and was mightily glad to see a pretty substantial turnout for a Sunday night — and an appreciative one, too. As far as I’m concerned, it more than holds up on a second viewing.

  6. I seldom agree with Ken Hanke’s extreme ratings, but I caught this in Charlotte on the weekend and it’s absolutely brilliant! There’s just some great tiny little touches, I usually hate romantic comedies, but if one came along with Mos Def and Melonie Diaz I’d be lining up. Nice to see Paul Dinello is still alive, and Kid Creole sleeps in the porn room.

  7. We seem to agree on most things, but when you break out the five stars, we seem to have watched a different film. And when you reach for the “Pootie Tang” references I know I have to get in line.

  8. Staci

    My curiosity is always piqued whenever I see five stars given to a movie by Ken…it means that the movie is well worth watching! I originally read this review when the movie was playing in Hendersonville, and the drive was well worth it! I can always depend on Ken to give the best ratings on truly good movies. I’m not easily swayed to watch movies at the theater based on other reviewers. Ken has the true ability to pick out the most important aspects of movies, and to give honest reviews about the movies, whether the movie is good, bad, or insignificant. I can always trust Ken’s five-star rating on a movie, such as this one, to show me that I will be watching something I will truly enjoy.

  9. the_good_wixer

    I just returned from watching Be Kind Rewind at my local theatre in California and looked up the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

    Ken here has come the closest to echoing my warm feelings toward this film, and is one of the few reviewers to point out that the ramshackle, endearingly disjointed nature of the movie is a reflection – and the point of – the story itself.

    In both execution and theme, Gondry’s film is a celebration of enthusiasm, creativity and imagination, and of the joy and inspiration that exposure to this can inspire.

    He’s a filmmaker who notoriously prefers to execute his unique visual effects ‘in camera’ as opposed to using CGI, and much of this is in evidence here. I can easily forgive the nonsense of Jack Black’s character attempting to sabotage a power plant, not least for the amusingly implausible sight gag it allows.

    Not to mention, it’s a film with a good heart. I haven’t noticed any other reviews point out the parallels with Sullivans Travels here, most apparent in final sequence – that the experience of watching a flickering image in a darkened room sharing laughter with others is sometimes all we need to remind ourselves of the simple joys in life.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I hadn’t thought of the SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS parallel myself, but it’s a perfectly valid one, even if Gondry takes the idea a bit farther than Sturges did.

    The complaints about the improbable/impossible nature of the film’s sight gags baffle me. Sight gags by their very nature are impossible. These gags certainly played well with the Fine Arts audience I saw the movie with — not so much with the crowd at the Epic on opening night, but I put that down to a large part of the Epic audience being made up of viewers expecting a typical Jack Black movie.

  11. Sunday

    The notion of this film NOT being a typical Black film is part of my motivation to finally see it. It’s a shame that with some folks, that’s a bad thing. You see this with Jim Carrey some as well.

    I think some of the goofier comedians/comedic actors do their best roles in very serious parts (Steve Martin, Robin Williams, etc.)…or at least, if not serious, departures from the norm anyhow.

  12. Ken Hanke

    And Will Ferrell in STRANGER THAN FICTION.

    Of course, it’s a marketplace thing and it’s always been around. Chaplin faced a lot of resistance when he decided to address weightier issues. Abbott and Costello tried to make one character driven movie, THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES, in 1946. It tanked. Bob Hope tried a couple of dramas — THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS (1955) and BEAU JAMES (1957) — and the public steered clear. And how often have you heard the old Woody Allen preference for “the early funny ones”?

  13. Goodnyou100

    I stumbled across this by accident. Looking for reviews of DEFENDING YOUR LIFE on Rotten Tomatoes. I noticed that of the 27 critics that reviewed DEFENDING YOUR LIFE you were the only one to give it a “ROTTEN TOMATO” I’ll assume that you already know this is in my opinion a very good film. Sir, don’t you think that if 26 reviewers liked it and 1 did not (YOU) there seems to be something a bit wrong with your critical aptitude? Then this brings me to BEKIND AND REWIND. I saw this movie. It’s not the worst movie in the world. Would I tell others to go see it? No way. This was a disjointed film. I felt as if there were piles of film left on the cutting room floor. The makers of this film had the chance to delve inside the art of film making. Instead they should have us believe that people would actually like the 20 minute remakes that were made. When I saw that this film was coming out I was excited by this concept. But it failed on so many levels. The sound. The editing. The acting by Mos Def. His marbled mouth dialog left me wishing for sub titles. 5 stars? You would have us put this film in the same light as THE GODFATHER 1 and 2, JAWS, and SHINDLERS LIST just to name a few. I look forward to your comments…

  14. Ken Hanke

    Sir, don’t you think that if 26 reviewers liked it and 1 did not (YOU) there seems to be something a bit wrong with your critical aptitude?

    No. It simply means that I don’t agree with them. I didn’t even review the movie — nor did many of the other 26. Those are “quick ratings,” which Rotten Tomatoes encourages to help to cover movies from a time before there even was a Rotten Tomatoes. Half of them are just positive with no comment whatever. Twenty-seven reviews or ratings is a fairly small sampling. I doubt I am the only reviewer on earth who is unenthused by Albert Brooks and this movie. For starters, Variety was not whelmed by it. The SF Horror and Fantasy Review summed it up with, “In the end, Defending Your Life produces the occasional smile, even an amiability but, like the life of Albert Brooks’s character, ultimately does seem rather banally inconsequential.” I’m sure I could find others, if I wanted to spend the time, but all we’d end up with is pointlessly dueling reviews. I know there’s a tendency on the internet to want to rate critics based on them not liking a single film, or for them liking something you don’t. But it’s hardly a reasonable barometer. Go to Rotten Tomatoes and click on my name. You’ll find (I just looked because it fluctuates a few points) that I’m in agreement with the “Tomatometer” 79% of the time. This is not exactly an indicator that I’m wildly out of step with the critical community. On the other hand, Ebert, who liked Defending Your Life, currently ranks at 77% on agreement.

    You seem very keen on the idea of concensus as a means of validation, i.e., the way you immediately assume that I hold special reverence for certain films because they are recognized — generally speaking — as great movies. What if I don’t? Does that invalidate my view? Does it invalidate your view of Be Kind Rewind that at least three other people posting here are in agreement with me on the film’s merits? How do you account for the fact that it was biggest hit the Fine Arts Theatre had this year? I don’t agree with your summation of the film, but you’ve every right to that view. How do you feel about Gondry’s other movies?

    A lot of this seems to be predicated on the star rating system, which I deplore, but which readers and publishers like. It would frankly never occur to me to compare Be Kind Rewind with the movies you cite. I don’t really expect anyone to put a film in some pantheon of great movies. I don’t even think a movie should be seriously considered in that regard for at least 20 years after its release.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Good Lord, Jeremy, I’d completely forgotten about Mr. Goodnyou, who almost a year ago was anxiously awaiting my comments, but then seems to have had none of his own to offer to mine.

    I presume that the train scene is the one where the other old guys are offering Danny Glover advice? If so, that scene didn’t appear in the theatrical version of the movie — at least not in the one that played in the States.

  16. That’s the one I was talking about, yes. I’d no idea it was omitted from the theatrical version – I only caught up with the film on DVD. I wonder whether that was global or just in the US.

    I rewatched this last night, and liked it even more the second time. I have to admit that part of the appeal is that the films are strikingly similar to the kinds of things I used to make with my friends when I was 9 to 12. Parodies of Mission Impossible, the Bond films, rather than attempts at remakes, teaching myself linear editing on the VCR with the camera remote in one hand the VCR remote in the other. And I like Mos Def more in every film I see him in, although his best work remains to me his uncanny Chuck Berry in CADILLAC RECORDS.

  17. John "Jelly Roll"

    I just watched this for the third time and was happy to find on RT your five star review, Ken. An excellent review as usual. This is one of my personal favorites now and I look forward to watching this many more times in my life. It’s one of those movies that is something of a fable and seems a very important film — mythic, mos def. Long live Gondry.

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