State and Main Reviews
"State and Main" follows a film crew to Waterford, Virginia, where Walter Price's (William H. Macy) latest project, "The Old Mill", is headed into production. Equipped with several of the 19th century props needed for the movie, it seems like the perfect location; but when it's discovered that the most pivotal attraction, The Old Mill itself, burned down years ago, it sets off a series of disastrous events that could lead the production into cinematic hell. Star Bob Barrenger's (Alec Baldwin) weakness for teenage girls comes to a head when he begins having an affair with the daughter (Julia Stiles) of the local restauranteur (Ricky Jay), who decides to press charges. Temperamental female lead Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) refuses to take her top off for a pivotal romantic scene; screenwriter Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a sensitive introvert, is having trouble with needed rewrites. All this occurs before filming even begins, and a cursed pre-production is no way to marinate a major Hollywood drama.
Because most of Mamet's films focus on the intellectual bottom-feeders of society, "State and Main" feels like an anomaly, an unusual reminder that someone so obsessed with crafty shadow dwellers is capable of having a softer side that would prefer to pass the time with comedy than with cons. I might like him better when he's cackling along with the antics of Joe Montegna and Lindsay Crouse in 1987's "House of Games", but that doesn't mean that seeing him having a good time isn't a delicacy. Able to juggle a truckload of characters like a people obsessed puppet-master, Mamet has a natural gift for comedy, perfectly aware that insecurities among celebrities and money quests among productional heads are just as funny as sitcom-ready misunderstandings. His famed Mamet speak (a silky assortment of italics and quaint pauses in his characters' linguistics) is as conspicuous as ever; it suits "State and Main"'s acerbic screwball madness.
In all, it feels more like a pastime than a comedic masterpiece from one of films greatest screenwriters, but "State and Main" is a winner all the same: lived in by a well-cast ensemble and deepened by worthy subplots (the low-key romance between Hoffman and Rebecca Pidgeon is my personal favorite), it is a Hollywood satire of rare enthusiasm. It would make for a great stage play - movie execs might be happier that way anyway.
I have watched it many times and it always makes me smile.
The comedy isn't for everyone- it very much feels like a personal project for Mamet- a fun bit on the side of you will, but his passion for dialogue comes through here and even though it's never hilarious, there's a bright tone throughout and the occasional one-liner worth laughing aloud to.
Hoffman and Pidgeon are the stand-outs in this one as they add a real dimension of romance and capture the charm of the dialogue completely. The rest of the cast are good and certainly fit their roles but the comedy in their parts at times feels a little pressured- this isn't a film that should be memorable for any particular joke, it should be memorable for the overall experience and only Hoffman and Pidgeon offered that here.
The script is good but while there may be a lot going on in the plot, there's nothing that can't be quickly sussed out, it's almost a combination of formulaic ideas moulded into one. The outcome is different for sure but it's not particularly smart and you certainly get the impression that this film wants to be smart.
In it's attempt to keep the pace going it begins to crumble on itself- ideas that are built up throughout end up withering away to nothing in the end, some are even ignored completely after a point. This is frustrating and it makes the conclusion of the film feel fairly unsatisfying, it felt to me like this film got a bit lazy and began to fall on the comedy side to cover over the failures with the other aspects.
It's worth considering though that we are spoiled with some aspects of this film- with characters as interesting as the ones we get here and with some real themes behind a comedy it's almost inevitable that we'll feel somewhat disappointed when it ends- there's always more that could be done with potential like this.
In the end this isn't an undercooked meal but rather one that's cooked well but could use some seasoning, it's an enjoyable meal though and even if it doesn't leave you full you'll still have a pleasant taste in your mouth for a while afterwards.