A superficial summary of the plot of Be Kind, Rewind would lead
to the conclusion that it's a silly idea for a comedy. Maybe too
silly. Jack Black and Mos Def play two half-wits who have dead-end
jobs in a decaying section of Passaic, New Jersey. Black works and
sleeps in a junk yard next to an power station. Mos works in a video
store run by a kindly old man who seems unaware of the existence of
DVD. Through a concatenation of off-the-wall contrivances, Black
becomes magnetized by the nearby electrical transformers, and his
powerful charge erases all the video tapes.
This situation is even worse than it might be because the video
store owner is out of town temporarily, and Mos has been left in
charge for the first time in his life, with only one instruction: to
keep Jack Black out of the store. By failing to heed that advice, he
has destroyed the entire business. Mos and Black initially think
they have time to replace the inventory, but their crisis is
elevated to red alert when the store's best customer, a dotty old
lady who is as unaware of DVD as the store owner and who talks to
the owner every night on the phone, wants to rent Ghostbusters. The
lads know that the old gal is as nutty as a squirrel resort so they
decide to re-create Ghostbusters themselves, figuring that she'll
never know the difference.
To make a long story short, the boys continue to make home-made
versions of classic movies, and the neighborhood takes to them.
Eventually the guys elevate the home-made aesthetic to the next
level by offering to incorporate the purchasers into the films they
are about to rent. For twenty bucks they can not only rent The
Godfather, they can be in it!
That's enough for a movie right there, because the premise gives
the director a chance to reveal some of the tricks involved in
low-budget filmmaking, and also gives him a chance to comment on
what is right or wrong about the films being "sweded," as our heroes
call the process.
The film has more than that in mind. Running concurrent with that
story is a plot about gentrification. The city of Passaic wants to
tear down the video store's block and replace everything with some
generic-looking yuppie project. The only way to avoid the wrecking
ball is to bring the building up to code, which would require an
ungodly amount of money ... but in "sweding," our lads have stumbled
upon a money-making scheme so lucrative that they might just be able
to do it!
Given that the author of the script is the supremely eccentric
Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), there's even
more going on. The video store is supposedly the birthplace of jazz
great Fats Waller. That turns out to be a romance concocted by the
store's owner, but his fantasy becomes the community's greatest
asset when the MPAA cracks down on the boys' "sweding" of Hollywood
movies because it is copyright infringement. The boys eventually
figure out that they can still make original movies even if their
replicas are illegal, so they create a Fats biography, based on the
assumption that he really was born in the video store. While they
are at it, they make up everything else as well. (I'll bet you
didn't know that Fats was the youngest of seven children, and the
only one to survive an attack by ninjas.) They incorporate the
entire neighborhood into the movie.
Do they save the day? Who knows? Who cares? It's not a film that
takes place in the real world, but in Michel Gondry's alternate (and
better) reality. It ends up being a movie about the joy of
community, about all the things that made you love films in
the first place and made many of you want to create your own. It's
inventive, imaginative, sentimental, and more than a little bit
crazy. It's the Cinema Paradiso that Giuseppe Tornatore would have
made if he had grown up in a Salvador Dali painting rather than in a
real small town in Italy.
The film misfires now and then, but even that works because it's
perfectly consistent with the overall tone. Remember how Johnny
Carson was even funnier with bad jokes than with his best zingers?
Same thing happens here. The film can be stupid, but stupid in a
good way, like Will Ferrell reaching for a high-concept joke that
doesn't quite work, but inspires admiration for what he was trying
When it comes to imagination, Michel Gondry is a flat-out genius.
Unlike many of the other great filmmakers, he has a big heart and a
great sense of lowbrow humor, as if he were a bizarre DNA re-mix of
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Giuseppe Tornatore and The Farrelly Brothers.
I love this movie.
I went to see Be Kind with my daughter and niece, who liked it as
much as I did. It was quite packed for a 5 PM showing, and the
audience had quite an unusual reaction at the end. Everyone sat in
stunned silence, watching the credits. I read the IMDb board for
this film and found out that this is a phenomenon which has happened