Actress Isabella Rossellini once told The Guardian that she gravitated toward certain directors because she wanted to “take a trip into their brain.” Movie-watchers, I firmly believe, choose fare on the same basis — sometimes unwittingly — and one soul’s Michael Bay is another’s Hal Hartley.
If I had any doubts before, Be Kind Rewind has solidified it: I love director Michel Gondry’s brain. Unconditionally. He could make a plotless movie set in ancient Egypt about killer deer with candelabra antlers and oreo hooves and I’d be the first in line to see it … which is weird, because usually my brain-lust causes me to be more critical of the lobes’ owner’s work (See Marie Antoinette). Nope. Perhaps if this, the second crafty and visually inventive feature film both written and directed by Gondry (who previously directed Charlie Kaufman scripts Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) had within it even the slightest hint of mean-spiritedness, I might be able to crush my growing adoration. But as in his last picture, The Science of Sleep, Rewind’s characters have good intentions and (over)active imaginations — you want to reach out and hug even the alleged assholes. Sounds kind of like a live-action Disney movie, I know: Only with profanity, blurred reality, complex characterizations, sex-related humor, and an ambiguously happy ending.
Yeah, so you can see why one might enjoy being a tourist in that world; why my first instinct is to make excuses for Gondry’s mistakes (we can talk Human Nature another time). But never fear, I’ve still got my wits about me: I’m not going to tell you that Be Kind Rewind is perfect or big on plot — it’s not. But the film itself — by way of the spindly Mia Farrow — will be the first to tout that it’s big on heart. And just look how pretty.
Foreknowledge of premise hurts Rewind, because Gondry takes his time setting things up — before you know it, half the movie’s over and you already knew this stuff from previews — so I’m going to keep it simple. Basically (and vaguely): Buddies erase VHS tapes of small-town video store; buddies create DIY versions of Ghostbusters, The Lion King, etc. from memory to keep customers happy and the wolf from the door.
Charming, yes? And with actor-musician-comic-geniuses Mos Def and Jack Black in the roles of the aforementioned “buddies,” you can bet this booger is laugh-out-loud funny. But you’ve probably surmised that the real stars of Be Kind Rewind are the “sweded,” or remade, films within the film. It’s always more fun to see what people come up with on shoestring budgets and love than the cold, fake CGI beasties and landscapes of hundred-million-dollar pictures. Anyone familiar with the flat-out magical visual trickery of Gondry’s music-video work for Björk, Beck, The White Stripes, and especially Cibo Matto knows the dude can make something from nothing. (And if not, I suggest you YouTube that shit immediately.)
When you get right down to it, Be Kind Rewind — surprisingly lacking a romantic subplot — is really about our love affair with movies as meaning makers and community rally-ers, and it’s successful on that count. But here I am going on about what I think when the verdict is simple: If you heart le brain de Gondry, you’ll be fond of this flick. If you generally think his brain is a twee, sentimental French jerk-off, well then this one isn’t going to change your mind. •
Be Kind Rewind
Dir. & writ. Michel Gondry; feat. Mos Def, Jack Black, Mia Farrow and Danny Glover (PG-13