Review: Be Kind Rewind

Directed by: Michel Gondry
Written by: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Mia Farrow, Sigourney Weaver, Melanie Diaz, Irv Gooch, Chandler Parker
Released: 2008 / Genre: Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB
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French-born writer and director Michel Gondry had to wonder about the dichotomy inherently suffered when referencing and re-creating, quite directly, some of the most iconic and well-loved Hollywood movies of the modern era. You have the instantaneous appeal to your average movie fan but you also gain the scrutiny of an audience with their own ideas of how it should be done. But where Gondry fails to enchant he at least finds poignancy without overt sentimentalism; his film ultimately telling of community, friendship, and having a good time.

Be Kind Rewind begins with friends Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) assisting video store owner Elroy (Danny Glover) produce a home-made film about a famous musician born in his home. When Elroy learns he can’t afford to stop a real estate developer ripping down his home and video store, he leaves to plot an alternative plan allowing Mike to take charge. But things don’t go well, as paranoid Jerry gets accidentally magnetised when trying to sabotage a nearby power plant. Of course, he ends up walking into the video store. Since it only stocks VHS his magnetised body wipes all the tapes leaving Mike nothing to offer his customers.

Be Kind Rewind, michel gondry, jack black,

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When Mia Farrow’s Miss Falewicz orders Ghostbusters, Mike decides, since she’s never seen the film, to re-create it on their home video recorder. Although the ruse doesn’t pull the wool over anybody’s eyes, quickly the whole town wants their favourite movies re-made, seeing Mike, Jerry, and friend Alma (Melonie Diaz) re-shooting zero-budget style everything from Rush Hour 2, House Party, Frequency, and Happy Campers to Seven, Last Tango In Paris, Freddy Versus Jason, and Boyz N The Hood.

I suppose for a film about remaking plots it’s ironic there are so many holes in its own story. I wonder if Gondry has been sitting on this script since the mid-nineties when people still had VHS players. Even the most cultured lover of all things historic must have realised the downside to running a shop catering only to videos when the players themselves halted production years ago and most households don’t have one anymore. Glover’s Elroy is too intelligent to have over-looked this simple fact so his bewilderment at not being able to afford health and safety improvements on his shop appear manufactured for the good of the story. This isn’t the only script dalliance, with Jerry’s magnetisation and consequent de-magnetisation more a convenience than anything problematic.

But it’s all a premise for Gondry and company to revisit some timeless classics, most notably Ghostbusters. There’s a lovely cameo from Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl femme-machismo mode, but Gondry misses a crowd-pleasing direct link between her and the 1980s paranormal comedy she starred in. The self-referential comedy is better suited to Mia Farrow – her of Rosemary’s Baby fame – whose character isn’t a fan of the supernatural. It’s nice to see Farrow, Weaver, and Glover applying a little Hollywood Hall of Fame to a movie purporting to celebrate its most notable moments.

However, while we see the characters making the movies, we never see much of the films they make. Because Be Kind Rewind is about these home-made films becoming the staple entertainment diet of this small town community, we want as an audience to see what all the fun is about. When we don’t, there’s a sense that we’re missing out on something. And that’s the film’s unfortunate drawback. As a celebration of mainstream Hollywood we get the making-of without the finished product.

That doesn’t mean Be Kind Rewind isn’t without its virtue. It’s homage to Sullivan’s Travels with the whole town enjoying the work of the video store filmmakers is wonderfully endearing. Gondry has happy, smiling faces watching the projected image of the town’s final film – this one an original – which works as a neat and poignant denouement to its characters love of the motion picture. Jack Black and Mos Def make a suitable buddy-partnership which never resorts to the saccharine. Black keeps his comedic physical extravagance restrained, and while his typecast bumbling is an acquired taste there’s some brilliant moments of comedy. One scene, involving Jerry and Mike trying to steal a projector from a movie rental chain store, can’t decide which window to break. When they eventually do break in, with Black making pains to avoid any shards of glass, they find themselves trapped by more glass doors. Black quips: “Why it’s like a hall of mirrors!”

And certainly, when the town’s people get behind Jerry and Mike’s plan to film an original movie featuring all the community, Be Kind Rewind shows off its true colours. The film might not have the style or the originality of Gondry’s brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (its success partly down to scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman’s work), but at its core there’s a good heart with good ideals. I’m reminded of John McCrea’s line in Preston Sturges Sullivan’s Travels: “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.” And since Be Kind Rewind won’t fail to make you smile, it’s definitely worth picking up if you find it sitting on the shelf at your nearest video store.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all review here

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Ross McD Reply

    This is in my top ten worst film of all time. Horrible, horrible stuff. Best part was when the little scummers who were in the cinema with us walked out near the end and switched on all the lights, allowing us to complain and get our money back

  2. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Ross, you couldn’t be more wrong!! This film is hilarious!! Best bit: when Jack Black is electrified and wipes the tapes in the store, and walks home in disgrace… where the wire fence next to him bulges out in response to his magnetism.
    A great little film, with plenty of cool stuff to outweight the negatives.

  3. Avatar
    AndyK Reply

    I have to agree with Ross – this film is terrible! I rented it out on DVD and switched it off after half an hour. Jack Black has only made one decent film – The School of Rock – pretty much everything else I’ve seen him in has sucked, especially this one. Avoid!

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