Once Again, With Feeling
Sincerity is the new irony in Michel Gondry's latest film.
11:00 PM, Feb 21, 2008 • By SONNY BUNCH
A SENSE OF JOY infects Michel Gondry's work. Getting his start in the spiritual abattoir that is the music video industry, Gondry elevated the medium, joining Spike Jonze as one of the few auteurs on MTV. His videos for the White Stripes (the Lego-themed "Fell in Love with a Girl") and the Foo Fighters (the dreamscape-saturated "Everlong") are as close to works of art as the format has produced; both radiate a high level of energy and a true love for the ideas that inspire them, be they toy bricks or the world we travel to while sleeping.
His feature films are no different. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an incredibly moving picture that appears, on first glance, to be consumed by sadness. It is, after all, the tale of a relationship gone so wrong that Jim Carrey's character Joel wishes to erase the very memory of his former girlfriend from his brain. But a deeper question emerges as the film goes on and Joe struggles to keep his memories intact: Is it worth erasing all of the bad memories if it means all the good ones go out the window too? Sadness only affects us because happiness is even more powerful. In the end, Gondry's leads decide that, despite how difficult his relationship has been, it is worth preserving.
The Science of Sleep is another joyous film, though an undeniably darker one. In it, Gondry celebrates the power of dreams to help us escape the bleaker moments of life. It's not an accessible film--decidedly nonlinear and largely plot-free, Gondry seems to have gotten more wrapped up in the movie's visuals than it's story--but it's certainly a pleasure to look at.
And now comes Be Kind Rewind, a comedy starring Mos Def (Mike) as a video store clerk and Jack Black (Jerry) as his buddy with delusions of grandeur. On its face, Be Kind Rewind promised to be a remarkably stupid film. The concept sounds like something out of the dreadful Scary Movie-Date Movie-Epic Movie genre: After Jerry accidentally erases all of the videocassettes in the store, he and Mike decide to remake the films in a series of not-good-enough-for-YouTube parodies. After reworking cable classics like Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, and a bunch of others (a process they refer to as "Sweding"), they rent the movies to the video store's loyal patrons. The town of Passaic take a shine to the flicks and prove themselves willing to pay exorbitant fees to see the Sweded films. All of this is done in a seemingly futile attempt to save Mr. Fletcher's (Danny Glover) video store from being demolished, but they overcome--the film ends in just about the sappiest way possible, with a viewing of an original production by Mike and Jerry packing the streets and winning over the heart of a greedy condominium developer.
Despite the overall silliness of everything about the movie--from the plot to the actors to the remakes themselves, nothing is taken terribly seriously--it's impossible not to enjoy the film. The remakes themselves are funny but not ironic; Gondry and his actors clearly have affection for the movies they're covering. It's hard to imagine the Movie movies pulling off anything like this without desecrating the corpses of the films they were trying to honor. There's a sincerity at work in Gondry's film that is both disarming and refreshing.
This is easily Gondry's most accessible work, if not his best. And those who enjoy Gondry's unique visual style won't be disappointed; though not as over the top as Science of Sleep, there are still some fun moments (pay attention to Jerry when he enters the video store after being magnetized while trying to sabotage the power company--don't ask--and wanders near the camera: That's not a problem with the print). Jack Black plays himself, but toned down a couple of notches (making him bearable). Mos Def is simply great. The film bogs down a little bit when Gondry goes off on an anti-MPAA, pro-piracy tangent, but all in all runs pretty smoothly. In the end, it's hard to come up with much to dislike about the film--though it may be a little emptier than the director's previous work. But a little light entertainment never hurt anyone.
Sonny Bunch is assistant editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.