State and Main
review by Elias Savada, 29 December 2000

David Mamet films have always held high marks in my book. Devilishly wicked if occasionally slight, he's brought us his third film in as many years, but, alas, one of his weakest (but still strong compared with the rest of the holiday film pack). Insightful, corrosive, snappy, snide: yes. Compelling, powerful, diverting: mildly. Following the delightful convoluted mystery The Spanish Prisoner and last year's remake of Terance Rattigan's play The Winslow Boy, his darkly comic slant on Hollywood's greedy invasion of small town America is haphazardly hilarious, painting a nasty spin on a harried production crew, a Jewish lawyer turned back-stabbing producer, a conniving director, and the self-absorbed cast that cracks the moral dam of civility in tiny Waterford, Vermont. ("Where is it? THAT's where it is.)

Mamet is one of America's greatest writing treasures, on stage (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross) and on screen (The Untouchables and Wag the Dog among my favorite of his scripts). When he takes to directing his own material (State and Main is his seventh such self-flagellation), he uses the gift of deft dialogue to paint the shadier and/or comic side of life, keeping action to minimalist distraction. The ensemble cast, which won a group acting award from the National Board of Review, doesn't disappoint in zinging bits that bite, although it's also discouraging that too many scenes end with questions intentionally left unanswered, a joke hanging unsaid on an audience that may be looking for a more distinct punch line.

So when La-La Land comes a-calling to Hokumville, USA, where an aging bow-tied Doc Wilson strolls the street and offers up quaint morsels befitting Marcus Welby, the rest of the townspeople take a varying approach to the incursion. Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's real life muse and wife, portrays the winsomely smart Ann, the local bookshop owner and amateur theatrical director. She becomes the earth-goddess inspiration and girl-next-door love interest of Philip Seymour Hoffman's Joseph Turner White, the stuttering, suffering playwright (Anguish) turned blocked screenwriter of The Old Mill, that turgid tale of New England passion and purity that is the film within the film. A pair of antiquarian locals provide rural comic relief colloquialisms as they "get hip" with the latest Weekly Variety and discuss per-screen grosses. Rotund Mayor George Bailey (Charles Durning filling in for Jimmy Stewart years after his It's a Wonderful Life character has gracefully grown old) puts up with a hard to please, pain-in-the-ass wife (Patti LuPone) who busies herself remodeling their house for the socially elitist dinner of the season. Down the street teen bait Carla Taylor (Julia Stiles) reads the latest gossip rag to learn the foibles of leading man Bob Barrenger (Executive Producer Alec Baldwin) whose predatory proclivities nearly bring the film to a startling, media-frenzied halt. Ann's stiff-shirted fiancé Doug MacKenzie (Clark Gregg) is a politically ambitious ne'er-do-well ultimately swayed by the powerful forces he seems so bitter to defeat.

The other above-the-title star shipped into the sleepy hamlet is fretful Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) a dunce-capped hot head who is ready to bolt from location rather than bare her breasts as part of a contractually-bound nude scene. She's calmed by director Walt Price (Mamet stage and screen regular William H. Macy), still checking on the box office of his Gandhi 2 sequel and frantically smooth-taking, bad-mouthing, and tight-roping among the locals and the crew as filming looms just days ahead. David Paymer IS Marty Rossen, the quintessentially abusive producer, pulling out all stops in quest for Hollywood gold and a hard-nosed reputation. Either he's incredibly insipid (he opts to call Claire by less-than-glamorous nouns) or marvelously shrewd (when the cash intended to bare Claire's bosom instead kick-starts the film back from legal limbo). Mamet obviously is drawing from a long career associated with the likes of such lunatics, whose names have been changed to protect their stupidity.

The script follows the characters' interaction and plants amusing situations all over town. There's even a scene about the absurdities of the federal election process that's preciously funny in lieu of the Florida fiasco. As a running gag, associate producer credits are tossed about like Easter Eggs, and if you stay through ALL the end credits (skewered with some inhumane humor), you'll learn that "A complete list of this film's associate producers is available upon written request."

The film was originally called State and Maine when the locale was set further north (it actually was filmed in Massachusetts). The final "e" was dropped and the reference now is to the town's single stoplight intersection where the reckless leading man and his teenage consort flip over a car and start the town talking.

The Player sends up the same tinsel town prima donnas that populate State and Main. Altman tackled the dirty business in its back yard, while Mamet's comic ode to the venality of Hollywood catches those powerbrokers in the crosshairs of country bumpkinhood. Fine Line Features' release is a fitfully funny morality tale. Part of the distributor's campaign is a website that further expands the humor. Check out for some extra added attractions (credits, bios, e-cards, production assistant's diary). No doubt that Claire Wellesley truly is one of the most downloaded actresses on the Internet.

Written and
Directed by:

David Mamet

Alec Baldwin
Charles Durning
Clark Gregg
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Patti LuPone
William H. Macy
Sarah Jessica Parker
David Paymer
Rebecca Pidgeon
Julia Stiles





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