Despite marking his debut with Human Nature, a film that didn’t really register on many peoples’ radar, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind proved that he was one of the most inventive directors working. After working with writer Charlie Kauffman on Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Gondry went solo for The Science of Sleep, and this month with Be Kind Rewind. It’s the most traditional and linear of his films, yet it retains the experimental sensibilities that we’d come to expect from Gondry.
Be Kind Rewind is a small video shop situated in a run-down part of New Jersey. The shop is owned and operated by Mr. Fletcher, a kindly old man who’s only other love, other than that of the community is for that of jazz. Mike also works in the shop and has spent his whole life growing up there, steeped in the stories of famed jazz musician Fats Waller that Mr. Fletcher has told him. The threat of big business puts Be Kind Rewind under threat, and gives Mr. Fletcher very little time to raise the funds required to keep the shop alive. When he heads away for a Fats Waller memorial, he leaves Mike in charge. But Mike’s hapless friend Jerry inadvertently erases all the films in the shop, putting the shop in dire straits. But Mike and Jerry come up with a plan to save the shop. The decide to Swede all the tapes, to film the movies with themselves in place of the actors.
The main thing about Be Kind Rewind is that not only is it a film about experimental filmmaking, it’s experimental filmmaking itself. It’s about love for film, and in another way, it’s a protest against the big budget filmmaking that is so prevalent in the Hollywood industry. Mike and Jerry aren’t experienced filmmakers. They don’t have a penny for a budget. And yet despite these drawbacks, they create films that are incredibly popular. Now, obviously, it’s fiction. Whether this would be popular in real life is questionable. But in the age of Youtube, which is a forum that would suit Swedeing down to the ground, it’s not entirely inconceivable that a pair of filmmakers like Mike and Jerry could become worldwide celebrities.
And it’s the enthusiasm of the protagonists that drives the charm of Be Kind Rewind. Their knowledge of the films they’re Swedeing isn’t encyclopaedic, but that doesn’t stop them. Casting Jack Black as Jerry was a good decision. As seen in High Fidelity, Black has a frenetic energy that at times seems unstoppable. And he brings this to the role of Jerry, a character who, despite the protestations of others, ploughs ahead sometimes without thinking. Mike on the other hand, is more conservative. While the initial idea to Swede the movies was his, he wants to quit at one, unlike Jerry, who loves the fame the film has brought them. The combination of these two characters is endearing, and adds to the charm of the film.
Michel Gondry’s direction is, as always, fantastic. He has a real whimsical style, which lends itself perfectly to the movie. In one particularly lovely moment, we see a few of the movies Mike and Jerry are Swedeing. But instead of doing a montage using different cuts, Gondry shows each film in one continuous shot, with the actors running around putting themselves into different films like We Were Kings, King Kong, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Men In Black. It’s this one little scene that sums up the style of the film really, and is a stand out moment which will be difficult not to smile warmly at.
While the film isn’t perfect, it’s very entertaining. The most enjoyable parts are when we see the guys Swedeing different films. But sometimes these moments can get in the way of the story. It’s an interesting conflict, but shouldn’t stand in the way of enjoying the film. A really good cast and some excellent direction means that Be Kind Rewind is a really nice, entertaining film.