by HELEN GEIB
Writer-director Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind is a sweet comedy that celebrates popular art and the importance of community life. It’s a movie to see with your kids, your parents, or your neighbor.
“Be Kind Rewind” is the name of the video (as in VHS tapes) store slash thrift shop owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). The store occupies the ground floor of a crumbling building in a rundown commercial strip in Passaic, New Jersey; Mr. Fletcher lives upstairs and is a mainstay of the long established, diverse neighborhood. Mike (Mos Def) is the store’s sole employee and Mr. Fletcher’s surrogate son. Mike is friends with Jerry (Jack Black), who repairs cars out of an old garage building down the street and has several screws loose.
Following a silly, but amusing sequence of events that would take too long to summarize, Jerry unwittingly erases Be Kind Rewind’s entire stock of videotapes while Mr. Fletcher is away on vacation. When regular customer Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) insists on renting Ghostbusters immediately and Mike can’t find a replacement VHS copy anywhere, he and Jerry decide to film their own version as an interim strategy to placate her and prevent Mr. Fletcher finding out about the disaster before he returns.
The project quickly snowballs to making new versions of other films. During filming of Rush Hour 2, Mike and Jerry recruit Alma (Melonie Diaz), who works at the neighborhood dry cleaners, to augment their small cast. Alma is a born entrepreneur and spurs the growth of the business to a “remake by customer order” model that proves wildly popular.
The absurdity of the film’s premise is obvious, and only partly rationalized by the depiction of Mike as lovable, not too bright, and too easily influenced by the sometimes likable, sometimes exasperating nutcase Jerry. However, the success of the execution makes up for the absurdity and general silliness of the concept. I challenge anyone to sit silent and stony faced through Mike and Jerry’s Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, The Lion King, and other single camera, open audition, found objects production design aesthetic, guerrilla filmmaking projects.
Be Kind Rewind may be a relic of the videotape age, but Be Kind Rewind is a child of the YouTube age. Fan art of the YouTube basement video variety is the immediate inspiration for the films within the film. Though that part of the film is a primarily a homage to the movies, and one that will please general audiences and movie buffs alike, the film’s ultimate purpose is to celebrate popular art and affirm the importance of urban community life. Alma grows the remake business by recognizing that people will pay more for a film if they see themselves in it; in other words, give them a stake in the final product. Her insight is precursor to a story development that has the neighborhood collaborate to film a community narrative. The act of creating art together strengthens a community that is shown as vibrant and hopeful despite its economic troubles, and their film is a joyous conclusion to the story.
I debated with myself what star rating to give Be Kind Rewind. My cold, analytical side argued that a film that is contrived and sometimes strains to achieve its intended comic effect does not warrant a 3 star rating, but my warm and fuzzy side won out. This is a thoroughly likable movie and I enjoyed it far too much to award it anything less.