With a dry wit and an amazing ensemble cast, STATE AND MAIN is a hilarious glimpse into the chaotic world of filmmaking.
Written and Directed by David Mamet
Starring William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker
Released by Fine Line Pictures
105 min. (2000)
“Why did we have to leave the other town again?” a location scout asks director Walt Price (William H. Macy) as they scope out locations for scenes in their new film The Old Mill. The reason the production team was forced out of the old town is never revealed, although it’s heavy insinuated that it had something to do with lead actor Bob Barrenger’s (Alec Baldwin) interest in very young women. All the audience really needs to know that Hollywood has now invaded the sleepy town of Waterford, Vermont and things are about to get crazy.
STATE AND MAIN is one of those “movies within a movie”. There have been many films of its kind made before, but the reason this one works so well is because the script never bothers to try and explain what the film they’re making is about. (What I can deduce from the plot of The Old Mill is that Bob Barrenger plays a firefighter in the nineteenth century who has an affair with a nun played by Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker)). The film instead focuses on this group of narcissistic misfits- aka a Hollywood production team- as they frantically try to get ready for the shoot. The script is the real star of this film, but that doesn’t mean that all the actors don’t get their moments to shine as well. William H. Macy is perfection as the sly director whose life is a constant juggling act; when he isn’t trying to sweet talk the mayor of Waterford into giving him a filming permit he’s convincing a hysterical Claire that showing her breasts is the truest way to express her art. Sarah Jessica Parker completely sheds her New York Carrie Bradshaw image for that of the spoiled and superficial California actress Claire. While Alec Baldwin will forever be Jack Donaghy for me now, he’s great as the slimy leading man Bob. “Do you mind if we don’t go through that bullshit where I tell you how much I loved the script?” Bob tells writer Joe White (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) at their first meeting. (In the audio commentary for the film Mamet mentions how this scene was inspired by a real conversation he had with a big name actorâ€¦ let the guessing games begin!)
Shy and self-critical Joe is the closest thing to normal the production company has. While in search of a typewriter in town Joe quickly befriends Ann, (Rebecca Pidgeon) and within a matter of days she has not only become Joe’s confidant and romantic interest, but helps him with the crazy script demands from the director and stars. Hoffman and Pidgeon have this really sweet romantic chemistry that I’ve seen Hoffman produce again with another actress. Joe and Ann become the moral center to the film because when push comes to shove during the climax of the film they are the only two characters who won’t sell their souls to Hollywood. By the end Joe and Ann have become the real heroes of this film, even if Bob and Claire steal all the attention away from them.
While in many ways this film is a giant middle finger to the absurdities of the excess of Hollywood life it’s also shows why so many people lie steal and cheat to become apart of it; when the cameras start rolling and that fantasy world comes to life, there’s a magic to it that can’t be beat.