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STATE AND MAIN

by: Michael Dequina

Review by Scott Renshaw

In Waterford, Vermont, the town doctor strolls down Main Street, following up with his patients as they pass by. The residents exchange expressions of support for the high school football team, and the clothing store leaves racks untended on the sidewalk. The mayor is even named George Bailey. George for-the-love-of-IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Bailey. Yes, indeed, Waterford is the quintessence of wholesome small-town America, God bless us every one.

Oh, and there was a string of suspicious fires back in the 1960s, probably set by a deranged teenager.

Somewhere between Frank Capra and David Lynch (by way of Woody Allen) lies the world of David Mamet's STATE AND MAIN, a movie industry satire that's not really a movie industry satire in its unique, sweetly cynical way. The concept finds a Hollywood film crew searching for the ideal backwater New England town for a location shoot. Director Walt Price (William H. Macy) believes he has found his spot in Waterford, until things start getting shaky. A key location is inconveniently absent, leading man Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin) is once again indulging his taste for underage girls and leading lady Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) is balking at doing her nude scene. Meanwhile, the film's rookie screenwriter Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is struggling with his artistic conscience and his re-writes as he falls for local bookseller Annie White (Rebecca Pidgeon).

In a more conventional film, STATE AND MAIN would have turned into a broad fish-out-of-water farce about clashes between the worldly and the homespun. Mamet chooses to keep those two worlds largely distinct from a narrative standpoint, juxtaposing the film's behind-the-scenes chaos with the reactions of the townspeople to the crew's presence. Most of the more straightforward humor comes from the pre-production, with good self-deprecating work by Baldwin and Parker and hilarious work by David Paymer as the film's cutthroat producer. Then there is Macy, whose director takes on a different personality for every person he deals with depending on how much power he wields over them. As both writer and director, Mamet keeps masterful control over when information is revealed, adding layers of humor at unexpected moments. In their clockwork construction and delightful aura of self-importance, those movie scenes are the stuff of great comedy.

But STATE AND MAIN actually works best as something more than a simple razzing of movie folk. The real object of Mamet's ridicule is the whole idea of "purity" over which Black obsessess in his script. Waterford is no idealized hamlet away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. It's a town with dark secrets, ready to sell its soul for a chance to be part of that hustle and bustle. The townies at the diner trade their local paper for Variety, the mayor's wife (Patti LuPone) tears up her historic home to host a dinner for the film crew, and the community theater actors drop their local production for a chance to be an extra in the movie. Mamet takes the myth of pop culture as corruptor of ordinary, decent Americans and shows ordinary, decent Americans in our tabloid- and WWF-obsessed "average American" world plenty ready to be corrupted if given an excuse, thank you very much.

That may sound like a terribly dark perspective, but STATE AND MAIN is actually a bit more optimistic. The budding romance between Black and White is not just significant in the metaphorical obviousness of their names, but in showing how tough it is to maintain a moral center in any environment. It's also, unfortunately, a seriously weak link. It's nice to see an actor like Hoffman get a shot at a romantic lead, but there's something missing from his character to make him a solid center. And while Pidgeon is getting better on screen all the time, she s

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