By Nicole Kobie
State and Main is a street corner in the slow, sleepy town of Waterford, Vermont. It’s where the ideals of purity and second chances cross paths. It’s where big business Hollywood and small town values collide. It’s where acclaimed director David Mamet and his brilliant ensemble cast attempt to wittily criticize their own industry, but end up only patting the industry, and themselves, on the back for their own cleverness.
State and Main, the story of a movie company’s invasion of a small town and the naturally ensuing zaniness, is an enjoyable, funny film–which is too bad. It could have been much more. What could have been harsh satire ends up as simple, soft jabs; what could have been a unique perspective on Hollywood’s reality relative to our own devolves into dull stereotypes.
State and Main has two types of characters: movie people and town folk. The former all lack any sense of morality: Alec Baldwin is a sleazy, sex-obsessed famous actor, whose hobby is pedophila. Sarah Jessica Parker’s blonde bombshell Claire is more prostitute than actress. The producers and directors are all dirty, resorting to bribery and manipulation to make their movie. Conversely, the town folk are all nice, friendly, trustworthy types.
There are exceptions to the dichotomy, but they are rectified by the end of the film. The local politician, Doug MacKenzie (which surely gets laughs from any Canadian), falls in love with TV and
becomes a "movie person." The focus of State and Main, the movie’s writer, Joe White, preserves his
innocence and ends up in love with the town’s bookstore owner. There are no grey area, middle-ground types. It’s either one or the other.
Also, both sides seem more than a little stupid. Director Mamet describes State as the "intersection of two cultures: rural America and show business." He’s right, but it’s hard not to wish one side would run a red light and obliterate the other.
The talented actors cast for this film either can’t save the characters, or just don’t. Either way, the dialogue feels rehearsed, the motions exaggerated and the scenes frustrating. By the end, Alec Baldwin doesn’t seem sleazy, just dopey. Rebecca Pidgeon’s stiff portrayal of the bookstore owner and community theatre director is as good as one would expect from a real small town community theatre.
State and Main is an entertaining film, though expect the movie industry to be more amused than the rest of us.