“Be Kind Rewind” is a charming mess of a movie, but a mess nonetheless. It’s a typical story about how Jack Black’s magnetic urine—indie band name alert!—erases the entire inventory of VHS tapes in a small thrift store in Passaic, New Jersey, which forces Black and Mos Def to re-film every movie until the evil holders of copyright stomp out their creativity.
Director Michel Gondry is an inventive filmmaker and one of the most creative guys on the planet, but he needs a blacker soul like Charlie Kauffman to keeps his tendency toward icky whimsy in check. “Be Kind Rewind” feels like it’s mostly improvised, with Black doing his manic Jack Black thing, Mos Def mumbling a lot while trying to be a geek instead of a cool rapper, Danny Glover playing the Danny Glover character, and other people sort of coming and going. Its version of Passaic takes place in some sort of alternate universe, where there exists these kinds of perfectly quirky, idyllic neighborhoods full of contrived eccentric people who get along way too well. And it has a typical message about the evils of yuppies and condos and Starbucks.
Coming from a Hollywood movie that thanks companies like Apple in the credits, that rings a little hollow. Maybe if they replaced the ramshackle thrift store with an Apple store—all those poor people need iPods and Macbooks too!—everyone would be happy.
Ignoring the fact that they could probably re-purchase the entire stock of VHS movies for like $1, the re-filmed—or “Sweded,” as the movie calls them—movies are really funny. Gondry is known for his love of low-budget, analogue effects (see the extras on the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” DVD), and some of the ways they re-create “Ghostbusters,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Rush Hour 2,” “The Lion King,” “Robocop,” “2001,” and others are incredibly cool and creative. I can’t wait to see the low-fi versions of them on BluRay.
(They missed out on an opportunity to Swede “Lethal Weapon,” though, with Black and Def doing Mel Gibson and Danny Glover… or maybe Danny Glover would do Danny Glover. Or better yet, he’d do Joe Pesci.)
Still, it’s hard to wrap your brain around how people recreating existing Hollywood blockbuster movies are an alternative to Hollywood blockbuster movies. But it makes it kind of a cousin to the other YouTube movie of the moment, “Cloverfield,” in that the YouTube generation is supposed to be making stuff and sharing it with others. The touching ending of “Be Kind Rewind”—where the neighborhood gets together to watch the first “original” film from the cast and neighborhood residents—is a stark contrast to the reality of showing original works. In the movie, everyone loves the amateurish creation; in the real world, someone posting something that lousy on YouTube would be savaged. Instead of supporting and rewarding originality—even if it’s kind of sucky—YouTubers are brutal. The criticism you get is just off-the-charts.
A friend of mine was doing a public access show in Vermont, and she edited together all sorts of things, created original segments using Barbie dolls and various other craziness, and started putting them up on YouTube to much derision. (And praise too, but I think the negativity took her by surprise.) People criticized her looks, complained about her being too old… it just got nasty.
Sensitivity to criticism and fear of sucking in public keeps me away from sharing most of the things I create, but my friend sticks with it because, as she says, you have to suck if you’re ever going to be good. And if there’s anything to take from “Be Kind Rewind,” it’s that if you’re going to suck, suck doing your own thing.
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