Has David Mamet — Pulitzer-prize winning, expletive-addict (and sometimes misogynist) playwright (Sexual Perversity in Chicago) of the ’70s — gone soft and gooey in his middle years? If State and Main — the latest gem from the prolific writer-director dynamo — is any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes!” And a charming, witty, downright welcome change of pace it is. State and Main is a feel-good flick that makes you think afterwards, a comedy with a crackling undercurrent of satire that teeter-totters from subtle to savage and always stays entertaining in the balance. Heartthrob actor Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin, Mercury Rising) was indulging in his “hobby” of underage playmates and managed to his entire movie crew kicked out of New Hampshire. The film’s harried director, poker-faced William H. Macy (Wag the Dog), lands the motley crew on Main Street in a small town in Vermont. With slick smiles and empty promises, he leads the campaign to bend the town to his will. But the townspeople don’t realize they’re being set up as patsies, so they respond to the invaders in normal ways. They seduce, they blackmail, they raise prices. They also fall in love and transform with goodwill. In essence, they behave like real people. Well, make that real people who speak Mamet-ese — sharp, brilliant, quotable one-liners that roll effortlessly off their lips like the notes in a symphony. The result is a nearly flawless script and the best ensemble acting seen in a film in years. It’s the subplot in State and Main that pulls the heartstrings and the lesser-known actors who steal the scenes. Rebecca Pidgeon (The Winslow Boy; Mrs. Mamet off screen) is Annie, the town’s no-nonsense bookseller and community-theater director. Finding himself under her spell is the beleaguered novice screenwriter, played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Magnolia). Asked what his script is about, he exclaims, “It’s about purity!” Except that, as each disaster strikes the movie crew — including the refusal of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character to bare her breasts — it becomes clear that there’s nothing pure about the situation at all anymore (least of all about himself, as he sells out his ideals for Hollywood bucks). “I have to tell the truth!” he cries out later. The director looks at him, dumfounded. “That’s so narrow,” Macy deadpans. Annie bestows on him the words that will save his script and his soul: “Everybody deserves a second chance.” Even screenwriters who perjure themselves. In the end, like deux ex Mamet, true love brilliantly twists reality as easily as it changes a stage set. Hoffman gets his second chance to be a moral hero. His intention to eventually tell the truth is enough to absolve him from lying before and just wanting to do the right thing allows him to finagle out of actually doing it. An unmitigated cop-out in life — but, hey, it’s convenient and cute on the big screen.
Before you comment
The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.