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Laramie Movie Scope:
State and Main

Of main street, movie making and morality

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 14, 2000 -- "State and Main" is a dark comedy about the chaos which reigns when a movie production company descends unannounced into a small New England town. It is like a tornado hits the town. Everything is changed, except the movie people.

The production company actually comes to the town by mistake, thinking there is an old mill there. The film "The Old Mill" has gone over budget and the existence of the mill would save money. The director, Walt Price (played by William H. Macy of "Magnolia"), seeks a filming permit from the mayor, named, of all names, George Bailey (played by Charles Durning). The mayor's wife, in turn, wants the film's stars and top brass over for dinner.

The story centers around "The Old Mill" screenwriter Joseph Turner White (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman of "The Talented Mr. Ripley") and a local store owner, Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon of "The Winslow Boy"). The two are instantly attracted to one another. Then there's the usual complications, but Black's reaction to those complications are quite original. Black's boyfriend, Doug MacKenzie (Clark Gregg of "Magnolia") who is quickly dumped, decides to get some payback. He finds out that the star of the show, Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin of "The Edge"), is fond of statutory rape and a local girl is only too happy to oblige. MacKenzie decides to make political hay when Barrenger wrecks a car while driving drunk, accompanied by a girl less than 18 years old.

White is a witness to the accident. White is told by Price that if he lies to police and the courts about what he saw, he will be guaranteed more work in Hollywood. If he tells the truth, he will be blackballed in the movie industry. The resolution to White's dilemma is unusual, to say the least. It is not what you would expect. There is also an over-sexed starlet, Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker of the "Sex and the City" TV series) and a determined producer/lawyer, Marty Rossen (David Paymer of "Bounce").

Price and Rossen are willing to go to any lengths to get the film made. They don't like Barrenger's hobby of sexual liaisons with under-age women, but they put up with it and defend him when he gets into trouble. Lying is a way of life with Price. He will say and do anything to get what he wants. Rossen is at times conciliatory, at other times, a bully. Most of the townspeople are no better. Bedazzled by the glamor of the movie industry, they fawn all over the cast and crew, but are ready to turn on them in an instant if they are slighted. Local merchants try to get a percentage of the film's profits. Everyone wants to be an extra in the film.

Only Black and White seem relatively uncorrupted by the Hollywood crowd, maybe that's because they are more interested in writing. With names like Black and White how could they not be interested in writing? Speaking of writing, this is a very cleverly-written screenplay, with sharp, fast-paced dialogue. The concept reminds me of "Noises Off." It seems a little too cannibalistic. It is funny, but not that funny. Macy, a fine actor, seems miscast in the part of the director, and Paymer doesn't seem to be as tough as he is pretending to be.

Only Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rebecca Pidgeon (writer-director David Mamet's wife) have any down-to-earth humanity in their characters. The rest seem so phony that they glide along without ever causing a ripple of emotion one way or another. Their mendacity is so ingrained you never know if you are seeing a true emotion. Director Mamet ("The Winslow Boy," "The Spanish Prisoner") has written a very clever, yet at the same time, cool, emotionless script. The result is a pretty low-key comedy. It is amusing, and, at times, funny. The film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)