State & Main

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Review byMatthew Turner15/02/2001

3 out of 5 stars
Running time: 106 mins

Sharply-written satire with a terrific cast, though lacking the emotional warmth it needs to lift it into greatness. The latest film from renowned American playwright turned writer-director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner) demonstrates all the qualities we’ve come to expect: a script that crackles with sparkling one-liners, a familiar cast (Baldwin, Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon, aka Mrs Mamet), devious characters and - the constant criticism of Mamet’s work - a distinctly cold centre where its heart should be…

The plot concerns the film crew of a production called "The Old Mill", a film that is - as the writer explains - "about the quest for purity", set in a New England town at the turn of the century and appearing to centre on the love between a nun and a fireman.

Having been unceremoniously evicted from their previous location (we’re never told why but we can pretty much guess), they turn up in sleepy Waterford, Vermont, only to discover that the ‘Old Mill’ they need for their central location no longer exists, having burned to the ground several years previously.

As the producer (David Paymer, wonderfully slimey) and director (The Great William H. Macy) soon discover, this is only the beginning of their problems: the leading lady (Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker) is refusing to do her contractual nude scene unless she gets more money; the writer (the ever-excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman) has writer’s block and has lost his trusty type-writer; and then there’s the small matter of the Big Movie Star leading man (Alec Baldwin) and his penchant for underage girls…

If truth be told, the central idea is not a particularly original one, and was handled in a much more satisfyingly light-hearted way in Alan Alda’s 1985 film Sweet Liberty.

However, Mamet takes the idea and squeezes it for all it’s worth, managing to get in some remarkably topical digs at the electoral system as well as solving the tricky problem of how to get product-placement for a dotcom company when your film is set in the 19th century.

There’s even a helpful definition of what an ‘associate producer’s credit’ really means ("It’s what you give your secretary instead of a raise!").

The performances are superb, with Macy, Hoffman and Paymer all stand-outs, while Baldwin and Parker have enormous fun sending up their Hollywood brethren.

It’s also refreshing to see Philip Seymour Hoffman play a romantic lead and get the girl for a change! There’s good support too, from Julia Stiles (as the hotel-owner’s worryingly attractive underage daughter) and Charles Durning as the town’s social-climbing mayor.

Still, while the film is undeniably well-acted and contains some memorable dialogue ("It’s not lying", Macy says, "it’s a ‘gift for fiction’"), it lacks both the frenetic pacing and the underlying warmth it needs to push it into the realms of comic masterpiece - it desperately wants to be an old-fashioned screwball comedy (Durning’s mayor is named George Bailey after James Stewart’s character in Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’), but it can’t quite pull it off.

That said, there are certainly worse comedies around right now, and this is still extremely watchable and worth seeing for the performances, the knowing digs at the film industry and the stacks of one-liners - just don’t expect to be actually moved or anything.

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Content updated: 23/01/2020 22:09

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