State and Main (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Written and directed by David Mamet, this film exhibits the articulate stagy verbosity of Mamet's usual work, but is softer and less cynical. It's a damned good movie that underperformed at the box office.

If you aren't familiar with his work, Mamet is an acquired taste. There are really no characters who resemble real human beings, and the dialogue is the kind of things we wish we had said but never can unless we are in a local production of an Oscar Wilde play. Mamet's articulate dialogue is probably most similar to that of Wilde's characters, all of them speaking in written rather than spoken English. 

You might also compare them to the characters of Paddy Chayefsky, except that they usually speak in short, clever apothegms rather than in the long speeches Chayefsky favors. I don't mind that at all. The structure is more like symbolist theater than a realistic film, but I don't think it's so hard to get used to. Mamet knows how to use it for comic effect. You just have to accept the fact that the characters are archetypes rather than real people, and that will allow everything to fall into place. If you do that, Mamet will dazzle you with cleverness, and he might make you laugh a lot. Like Woody Allen, he does not appeal to everyone's sense of humor, but his hard core audience really appreciates his weltanschauung.

This movie is the story of a Hollywood movie production that has come to film in Waterford, Vermont after having left another small town in New Hampshire for reasons related to the pedophilia of the star. They picked Waterford because it has an old mill which they need for their story, and they have no more budget to build a picturesque old mill, having already spent a lot of money on the sets they had to abandon in New Hampshire.


Rebecca Pidgeon briefly exposes one breast while changing behind a curtain. It goes by so quickly that I missed it even after somebody told me it was there, but I saw it when I forwarded a frame at a time. 
 Unfortunately, the town doesn't really have an old mill. It used to, but since a 1960 fire, it has an old mill ruin. Oops.

The script is a summary of every possible thing that can go wrong when a movie films in a small town. For example:

  • The star once again finds himself in bed with an underage girl, and then in an auto accident with her. She's willing to cover for him until he's dumb enough to get caught in flagrante with his co-star, making the underage girl jealous 
  • The writer is asked to re-write his script, "The Old Mill", given the fact that they don't actually have an old mill.
  • The locals are trying to milk the production for various things.
  • The director and cast forget to attend a dinner meeting with the mayor and his wife, thereby making an enemy of someone who could have smoothed over all their problems.
  • The female star doesn't want to do the nude scene she contracted for. In a situation eerily prescient of the Halle Berry episode, she asks for an additional $800,000 to show her breasts.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, and a full screen version

  • Full-length commentary by five performers


Well, eventually they work it all out. It was simple, really. They get the $800,000 in cash, to pay off the actress. The writer decides that the nude scene should be cut, so they don't need the bag full of money. They use the $800,000 to bribe the locals, who turn out to be just as corrupt as anyone from Hollywood.

Funny, intelligent satire, as we expect from Mamet, but with an inner core of sentimentality and respect for people, all of which we do not normally expect from him.


The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 82.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 84% positive overall, 71% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5, Apollo users 81/100. 
  • With their dollars ... a shame that there is such a small market for a literate and witty film. $7 million domestic gross.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. Witty, funny, intelligent and soft-hearted enough to have crossover appeal beyond Mamet's usual audience.

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