Home > Creativity and the Arts, Film > Be Kind Rewind: A Review

Be Kind Rewind: A Review

We watched this movie on the inaugural night of our vacation, and while on the one hand it lived up to its billing as a dumb and fun Jack Black vehicle, on the other hand I found in it some connections to my understanding of The Way the World Really Is (see my forthcoming post on The Meaning of Everything). If you haven’t seen this movie yet and intend to, be warned – spoilers ahead.

Danny Glover plays Mr Fletcher, a down-on-his-luck owner of a corner video store that only stocks VHS and rents for a dollar a day. Facing the reality of losing his building he leaves to get advice from some friends and entrusts his adopted son Mike (Mos Def) with the running of the store in his absence. However when Mike’s slightly off-center friend Jerry (Jack Black, playing Jack Black) unintentionally erases all the tapes on the shelves the two come up with the plan of covering up the disaster by recording over all the erased movies with their own remakes using Mike’s camera and plenty of aluminum foil and cardboard. Instead of obviously exposing the mistake, however, the bootleg versions become a neighborhood sensation, with people lining up around the block to request them.

But besides being a comedy based on a single gag (which I suppose you could apply to either the idea of the remakes or to Jack Black himself), the movie subtly develops the theme of community through the solidarity of the main characters around the history and preservation of their building and the phenomenon of the remade films (or “sweded”, as Sweden is far away and therefore more expensive) which gathers the diverse neighborhood and enlivens it. Being an avid fan of Mr. Alfred Yankovic’s magnum opus UHF, which features a parallel plot of a group of friends trying to save a failing enterprise by creating a sensation and rallying the community in its own support, and having ingested enough Hollywood happy endings, I was expecting this movie to build to an inspiring-sports-movie sort of finale where the contributions of the neighborhood add up to just enough pennies to save Mr. Fletcher’s building and send the corporate cronies off with their tails between their legs while our heroes are lifted on the shoulders of the cheering crowd.

This however was not the case, much to my surprise and ponderment, if that were a word.

On the night of the demolition, Mike, Jerry and friends hold a screening of their final and most thorough effort yet, an original and entirely fictitious production on the life of Fats Waller and his historical ties with their own condemned building, with enthusiastic participation by the entire community of some 30 or 50 people who have been caught up in the sweded phenomenon. As they file in to the store they drop change in a collections bucket labeled with the invitation “please contribute as much as you can”. And yet somehow it begins to seem that these pennies may not be enough.

Through a series of mistakes and lucky breaks the film ends up being projected onto a sheet spread across the storefront glass window, and when the lights go down and the projector illuminates, the hush and the magic of cinema envelops the room as people laugh and point at the things they and their friends have created. And it’s here that the film pauses just a little too long and the strings get just a little too insistent on the in-case-you-haven’t-figured-it-out utter emotional profundity of what you are watching. But what happens next is the striking part. At the film’s climax cheers from outside the shop betray a second audience: an impromptu assembly of strangers and other members of the larger community, as well as the demolition crew that has been tapping its feet outside all evening, watching the film in reverse image from the outside of the store and sharing in the same magic as the folks inside. And once again the delivery is a bit heavy-handed in favor of the significance of the moment; but then, with a slow crane shot up into the night, the movie is over. No mention is made of the money collected, no reprieve on the demolition is implied by the city officials, and no further significance is attached to the efforts of Mike and his friends except that they brought people together.

And this I think is the part that I related to most in the movie, the tie-in with The Way the World Really Is. If Be Kind Rewind is to be believed, bringing people together is what life is all about – the joy and other relational impact on the people involved in the shop’s efforts outweighs the community impact of the building’s demolition; the success and satisfaction of completing and enjoying their film outweighs the circumstantial success of saving the building, and somehow even the benefits Mr. Fletcher and Mike receive from their role in it all outweigh the personal effects of leaving their jobs and their home. It’s a strange and entirely counterintuitive view of life and happiness. In the end, life is about relationship more than it’s about success, progress, or money – or even the hope of things going right, as with Mr. Fletcher’s shop. It’s about people coming together and having a good time collaborating to create something bigger than themselves, and celebrating community in the process.

So while on the one hand the film was a little too long, the comedy occasionally vapid, and the final emotional message delivered in a Spielbergian spoon-feeding, on the other hand the atmosphere of creativity engendered by the enthused movie-making crowd where any everyday object or location is fair game for their art, and the unexpected resolution with its subtle avoidance of the everything-turns-out-great Hollywood myth left me thinking a little further into life than many movies have in some time.

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  1. August 11, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Love your post, very peacful, helps me rewing alright!

    -Donny

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