It’s our past, we can change it if we want,” might be an excuse a smart-alecky eighth grader gives a teacher for failing an exam or writing an inadequate essay about the Civil War. In this case however, it is what the characters in “Be Kind Rewind” say when they set out to create their own cinematic masterpiece about jazz musician Fats Waller.
This new endeavor from the unique mind of award-winning director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) is essentially a movie about making, or remaking, movies. If I were a film major, I would have been more disappointed about forgetting my notebook at home when watching this movie because it offers innovative filmmaking methods for people on a very tight budget.
Although the story is a tad fantastical, it is in fact whimsical and reminiscent of classic comedic movies of the 1970s. Overall, it is Gondry’s ode to the silver screen as he incorporates all genres (mostly because his main characters make their own versions of famous comedies, dramas etc.) into his own smorgasbord of a movie. His characters and actors fit perfectly in Passaic, New Jersey, where no one really wants to live. Jack Black is Jerry, a slightly off-kilter nerd who wears a helmet outside his trailer so that the local power plant doesn’t succeed in melting his brain. The severely underrated Mos Def is Mike, a do-gooder who works at an independent VHS rental store. Their lives seem to revolve around the store, Be Kind Rewind, much like the characters in “Clerks.”
They find themselves in a tough situation when they realize Jerry, upon being magnetized in a battle with the power plant, erases all the tapes in the store, which Mike was left in charge of. While Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), Mike’s slightly paranoid boss, is out exploring the vast and mystifying world of the DVD in the next town, the duo must find a way to run the store without riling the suspicion of Mr. Fletcher’s confidant, Ms. Falewicz (Mia Farrow). When she is looking to rent a movie, in an act of desperation, Mike and Jerry film their own amateur, 20 minute version of “Ghostbusters.” Mike and Jerry decide to call these new videos “sweded,” and when their “sweded” version is seen by Ms. Falewicz’s nephew, he and his friends want more. Suddenly, the makeshift videos are in high demand, despite their high “imported” price.
Mike, Jerry, and a new recruit, Alma (Melonie Diaz) are pumping out sweded videos like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “RoboCop” for customers forming lines around the block. Since customers are charged to be in the sweded version of their favorite movie, the store is picking up again after years of being overshadowed by the more advanced West Coast Video. Jerry and Mike even convince Mr. Fletcher not to join the DVD bandwagon.
Despite the rising success of the store, the odds are against Be Kind Rewind: it is under the threat of being demolished, and the recreational filmmakers are accused of copyright infringement. Although there are greater forces against them, the entire neighborhood becomes involved in saving their beloved store.
If you’re thinking this film sounds ridiculous and nonsensical, you’re right, (what movie starring Black isn’t?) but it is also warm and inspiring. “Be Kind Rewind” is a movie about how regular people can remain hopeful and join forces to create a wonderful work of art, with the help of cardboard, old car parts and pizza; Stanley Kubrick would be proud. Plus, it’s worth seeing Black in a dress.
Aside from the film itself, the soundtrack is also worth noting. It fits Gondry’s odd style like a glove, mostly because it is composed by French composer Jean-Michel Bernard, who worked with Gondry in his previous films, “The Science of Sleep” and “Human Nature.” It offers a pretty blend of classic jazz and swing as the backdrop of the main and supporting characters’ high jinks. Bernard does a rendition of Fats Waller’s (he is also featured in the soundtrack) “You Feets too Big” with Mos Def.
Test your movie knowledge and watch out for film and actor connections throughout “Be Kind Rewind.” If you don’t catch them, you probably saw the sweded version.