State and Main

USA, 2000. Rated R. 106 minutes.

Cast: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Charles Durning, David Paymer, Julia Stiles, Patti LuPone, Clark Gregg
Writers: David Mamet
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton
Producers: Sarah Green
Director: David Mamet


Grade: B Review by Carlo Cavagna

D avid Mamet must be getting soft in his middle age. It was once joked that if Shakespeare is best known for writing, "To be or not to be," then Mamet is best known for writing, "Fuck you!" But now, on the heels of composing an adventure script (The Edge) and directing a rated-G drama (The Winslow Boy), Mamet gives us a light-hearted satirical comedy about a Hollywood film crew descending on a tiny Vermont town to shoot a movie.

On the surface, State and Main might appear to be a biting satire about the movie industry. Mamet spares nothing, showing us where the screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) ranks in the creative hierarchy, giving us a superstar actor (Alec Baldwin) with a weakness for minors and a superstar actress (Sarah Jessica Parker) Pidgeon and Hoffmanwho suddenly needs an artistic reason to bare her breasts even though the entire country can "draw them from memory," and uncovering the real meaning of an "Associate Producer" credit. Despite this, State and Main is actually quite gentle. Mamet skewers, but not viciously, and creates a love story between sensitive screenwriter Joseph Turner White and cultured local bookkeeper Ann Black. Get it? White and Black? The joke isn't as obvious as it sounds; the characters always call each other by their first names.

Though Mamet's material is getting less aggressive and words less hard-edged, dialogue is still the heart of any David Mamet script. Mamet loves the interplay of words, rife with sharp exchanges and ready witticisms. His scripts often sound a bit artificial as a result, though in movies like The Spanish Prisoner, the stilted dialogue is all part of the fun. In State and Main, the words flow more naturally than usual for Mamet, but they still require and reward the viewer's attention.
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It's clear the actors find the script rewarding, too. They all perform with such zestful glee that you can tell they are loving their lines. All deliver excellent performances, so it's unfair to single out a few for specific mention. Nevertheless… As the film's predictably show-biz director, the normally stammering, insecure William H. Macy plays strongly against type as a man used to managing crises, smoothing egos, and being in total control. In his first role as a romantic lead, the versatile Hoffman, seemingly the hardest working character actor in Hollywood, is sweet and engaging. Pidgeon, who is required to star in any Mamet-directed film (she's his wife), is much less affected than usual and plays well opposite Hoffman. As for Baldwin–he's always done his finest work when Mamet writes his lines (see Glengarry Glen Ross and The Edge). He should never work with anyone else.

State and Main does veer somewhat off course in the last half hour, when conflicts between the townspeople and the film crew come to a head. Because Mamet needs to get to a happy ending, the issues he raises are not fully confronted and the resolution is forced. But when a movie has so many sublimely funny moments, who cares? Just one example: When Ann catches Joe in a compromising situation, he immediately launches into a litany of ridiculous excuses, which Ann appears to accept at face value. Joe is so surprised by this that he steps outside himself for a moment. "You believe that?" "I do if you do," Ann responds guilelessly. "But it's absurd!" exclaims White. State and Main is pretty absurd, too. That's why it's worth seeing.

Review © December 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2000 Fine Line Features. All Rights Reserved.

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