30 September 2001 | Buddy-51
pleasant but just not very funny
David Mamet's `State and Main' is what `Our Town' might have been had it been conceived by a clear-eyed, modern day cynic. In this tale, a Hollywood film crew invades the idyllic hamlet of Waterford, Vermont, determined to capture on celluloid the simple bucolic virtues of a bygone era. The only problem is that those involved with the making of this film-within-a-film lack the requisite innocence themselves to do justice to the theme they purport to be exploring. They are all typical products of the crass Hollywood culture boorish, self-obsessed and thoroughly amoral. All except the writer of the piece that is, Joseph Turner White (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the one character who is not only in touch with his cravings for a return to innocence, but who passes the moral test laid out for him along those lines at the end.
`State and Main' is a clever film, a cute film, a likable film it just isn't a very FUNNY film. The Mamet specialty flat, monotone, emotionless line readings becomes grating and irritating after awhile. Both the small town rubes and the big city elitists come across as little more than tired stereotypes who really don't have anything particularly funny to say. As a result, most of the attempts at humor simply fall flat. We've seen these characters and situations countless times before the temperamental star making exorbitant financial demands, the lecherous leading man endangering the production with his reckless sexual dalliances, the harried producers and directors fighting a constant transcontinental phone battle with demanding studio heads `back on the coast.' And it just isn't all that interesting. Part of the problem, I think, is that Mamet never really exploits or explores the setting he's chosen. Most of the townsfolk emerge as minor, background characters at best, with the possible exception of Rebecca Pidgeon as Annie, Joe's eventual love interest. Pidgeon, who looks uncannily like Marlo Thomas in her `That Girl' days, seems sweet as all get out, but the atonal delivery of most of her lines hampers the interest we might otherwise find in her character. Actually, none of these characters are very interesting or very funny. In fact, most of them seem rather pathetic when you get right down to it, and Mamet fails to provide the satirical wit and bite that would mitigate some of their unpleasantness. He doesn't generate the kind of out-and-out, hearty laughter that Christopher Guest derived from his examinations of rural America in movies like `Waiting For Guffman' and `Best of Show.' Mamet's take is, in many ways, so cynical that he seems to have forgotten to engender the kind of affection for his people that helps keep condescension at bay. Or, perhaps, it is really so much simpler than that maybe he merely neglected to write any truly funny material this time around.