State and Main

State and Main

A Hollywood film crew invades the idyllic small town of Waterford, Vermont. Based on that pitch alone, you can guess what to expect in State and Main. But this being the caustic and often brilliant writer/director David Mamet, there is, of course, a lot more here than the typical showbiz folk vs. ordinary Americans scenario that we've all seen before. The film's central thesis - and it's a true one - is that everybody is starstruck. Hollywood conquers all. And no, that's not a good thing, though the movie's tone is light and frothy enough to make you believe that it might be.

My feelings about State and Main are similar to those I had about Wag the Dog (which was cowritten by Mamet): there are serious, even depressing statements here about the corrupting nature of show business, but the satire is kept so light that it barely even registers. I get the feeling that Mamet isn't even particularly outraged by the callousness of Hollywood people; he just accepts them for what they are. There may be wisdom here, but his "whatever!" viewpoint looks kind of scummy once his plot focuses on the fictional film's lead actor (Alec Baldwin) coming up against a statutory rape charge.

Regardless, the cast is excellent, as you'd expect from a top-drawer group of actors (William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker, et al); the story is very clever; there are lots of amusing one-liners.

My only real beef with the movie is that Mamet fictionalizes some of the details of filmmaking: for instance, Parker's character is supposedly getting paid $3 million to do the film (which itself looks like a low budget shoot), and when she suddenly decides to break her contract and not do a topless scene, $800,000 in cash is requested to be rushed to the set. Though it may be important to the story, it's utterly unlikely - if not impossible - that this would ever happen in real life, and this slip (among others) is particularly annoying when so much else is so hilariously, vulgarly true to life, and when you remember that Mamet is certainly no stranger to the film production process (he's directed 7 features) and doubtlessly knew that he was making all this stuff up just to suit his story. State and Main could have been really delicious if he had kept it all real.