As writer-director David Mamet (House of Games, The Winslow Boy) deftly shows in his new film about filmmaking, it takes just as much effort and commitment to make a bad movie as it does to make a good one. In State and Main (the title refers to an intersection of street names common to nearly every American small town), a Hollywood crew descends on picturesque Waterford, Vt., to shoot a period film its screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a marginally successful playwright riddled by compromise, cryptically describes as “about purity.”
Purity is not on the mind of the film’s director (William H. Macy), who approaches his job like Napoleon facing Waterloo, believing he can still pull out a victory if he makes enough people happy — namely his ferocious take-no-prisoners producer (David Paymer) and the film’s stars, a pompous blowhard (Alec Baldwin) who favors teenage girls and a flaky sexpot (Sarah Jessica Parker) who refuses to bare her breasts.
The setup is simple: Sophisticates who look down on the Yankee yokels plan to exploit their scenic town and generous hospitality. Of course, the joke’s on them. These small-town residents, so accustomed to internecine battles and gossip clusters, are far more savvy than the isolated Hollywood types who can’t see beyond the boundaries of their insular profession. It’s the locals — perky bookstore owner Rebecca Pidgeon, ambitious town politico Clark Gregg, casually seductive waitress Julia Stiles — who effortlessly turn the production upside down.
One of the great American playwrights and acting gurus, David Mamet has branched out by writing novels and making films, and his frustrations with the latter medium are apparent here (the level of hilarity in this comedy goes up proportionally with the viewer’s knowledge of the movie industry). Mamet goes about trying to pierce the veil of glamour surrounding cinema, but trips himself up. No matter how ridiculous the process, State and Main asserts, the end result remains worthy of our awe.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
E-mail Serena Donadoni at firstname.lastname@example.org.