Maccewill Yip still has trouble buying the inconsistent logic and worldbuilding of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, but that doesn’t mean the movie is without its charms.
I really wanted to love this movie. I wanted to love it when it first came out. I wanted to love it when I revisited it a couple years ago. I wanted to love it now, as I rewatched it for this review. However, I am not saying that I hate it. No, it’s more like I am conflicted with it. When I haven’t seen it for a while, I’d be reminded of the movie and wonder what it was that prevented me from embracing the film fully, but then I’d watch it and see the faults all over again.
When I first saw the trailer for Be Kind Rewind, I thought it was a great premise and the films that they “sweded” looked fun. I then saw that it was directed by Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and became more excited! I didn’t have much thoughts about Jack Black at the time, but I thought Mos Def was decent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So I went in with every thought of enjoying a fun, quirky film and came out with a conflicted disappointment.
One of the initial problem is the awkward, inconsistent characterization. The best example I can think to describe it is with Mos Def’s character, Mike. He is by no means a genius, but he’s intelligent enough to figure some stuff out; the problem is how long it takes to do it. I could probably give him a pass for the time he took to finally figure out Jack Black’s character, Jerry, and what was causing the tapes to be erased, but I just can’t when he sees Danny Glover writing on glass with backwards lettering and taking forever to figure out that it should be read in reverse. But in a way, I can’t fault the obliviousness of Mike, because it seems the whole neighborhood is the same, to an extent.
The main concept of Mike and Jerry making movies to hide the fact the tapes were erased to unsuspecting customers made sense with the first two movies, Ghostbusters and Rush Hour 2. However, it’s dumbfounding that they had to keep up with the charade afterwards since it should be obvious that it was Mike and Jerry in the videos and not “Bill Murray and other actors…” At that point it’s pretty clear what Mike and Jerry did and they could’ve just said something like, “Glad you enjoy our weird work, give us some time and we can make it for your other movies you want.” Instead, they make up the term “sweded” and made it sound more exotically complicated than it really is. (Although I understand it was initially under pressure from the Mia Farrow’s character, Miss Falewicz, angry nephew and friends.) And the neighborhood falls for it! Or do they? It’s not clear, because it goes back and forth from showing the neighbors being oblivious to knowing full well the actors in the “sweded” films are the storeowners, especially Jerry.
The main problem with these lapses of reasoning is that they’re not really consistent with the characters, but are there as conveniences to the plot. They are not subtle. They are very obvious. Also, they are not really needed as I see it in the film. As I rewatched it now, I can see how some of the conflicts in the film can be resolved by the characters and still keep their traits consistent. And you have a lot of interesting characters in this film, both the main characters and the ones around the neighborhood. However, you see these wonderful personalities suddenly act awkwardly solely because the plot needed them to.
The other problem I had sometimes with the movie is its mixed tone. I feel Michel Gondry had pushed his quirkiness a little too much in the film and it became distracting. It was fine when it was limited to their sweded films, because it worked there and made it understandable how their shorts became famous in the neighborhood. No, it’s the little things here and there, mostly parts involving Jerry when he was magnetized. The most egregious scene is when he releases his magnetic pee and all the metal parts in the street follow the stream like one of the old school Sesame Street stop-motion shorts. It also seemed inconsistent when Jerry would attract metal or VHS tapes or not when he was still affected.
All this happens in a world that is, for the most part, fairly realistic and grounded. There was apparently a small subplot of Mia Farrow’s nephew that was threatening her, but it’s dropped almost as quick as any similar subplots brought up in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. I am not saying that quirky fantasy and urban setting can’t mix, but it just isn’t handled right in this film. For a good example of the melding of the two, check out Vittorio de Sica’s Miracle in Milan, which is able to lay down some of fantastical elements early and throughout the film so that both work together satisfactorily.
Another gripe I have is the side trip of the storeowner, Mr. Fletcher (played by Danny Glover). It makes sense plot-wise, but every time I watch this film, I feel like it’s a B-story in a TV show rather than a relevant side story to a movie. And when Mr. Fletcher comes back to apply what he learned from the other rental shops, it’s almost immediately scrapped after the sweded rental boom. So in essence, the trip was just another convenience to the plot, just to get Mr. Fletcher out while the shenanigans happen in his shop.
Pretty much all I have mentioned can be pretty much linked to the inconsistency of the script, and my biggest disappointment. I had hoped so much for similarities between both Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind that I didn’t realize in my very first viewing that, although both were directed by Michel Gondry, they were not written by the same person. Although I have heard his name sporadically before, it wasn’t until a little after my first viewing of Be Kind Rewind that I had really discovered the name Charlie Kaufman. He is the perfect quirky writer that directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry can play off of, but his scripts are able to ground the eccentricities and make them believable within the environments he builds. And that is the difference, since Be Kind Rewind was written by Gondry himself, and it shows with the lack of proper structure and limitations set to work within.
All of this makes it seem like I hated the film, but there are elements that I like a lot. The sweded films themselves are wildly inventive and entertaining. I especially love the one-shot montage of several movies filmed at once:
Then there’s the Fats Waller storyline, which works very well as the history/non-history of the video store and how the community is able to join together, with no care for historical accuracy, and create something the whole neighborhood could enjoy, albeit for one night only. It is probably the only strong thread throughout an otherwise spotty screenplay, and it just barely earns the emotional ending it built up to. And as I said, the characters are fun and unique, both main ones and the ones in the neighborhood, when the script doesn’t have them make stupid decisions.
One funny thing is that a lot of what the characters Mike and Jerry do in the film is what many people with YouTube channels do nowadays. Since this movie was made around the early days of YouTube, they probably could’ve gotten famous and figure a way to make money like some of the content makers are doing now. In fact, some of the hype and publicity for the movie itself was through the video site, including a sweded version of the original trailer with Michel Gondry playing almost all the parts and their channel encouraging fans to create their own sweded films.
After this viewing, I think I’ve finally resigned to the fact that I’ll never fully embrace Be Kind Rewind. It sometimes takes a few viewings to finalize my feelings on certain films. For instance, I initially hated Fellini’s 8 ½ because it seemed incomprehensible, but later viewings opened up some of the layers to me until it became one of my favorites. For Be Kind Rewind, I think I had enjoyed the idea of it and some of the better parts too much to let go of it fully earlier, but now I feel that I should just let it be as it is, faults and all. It’s still a fun enough film with them in it.
- My favorite line:
Miss Falewicz Nephew: Mr. Fletcher, I don’t see the connection with my lesson.
Mr. Fletcher: There is none. We changed the subject.
- Now that I’ve watched the original film, I love that they sweded The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and wonder who amongst their neighborhood wanted it done.
- Wow, isn’t that convenient that Mike and Jerry’s camouflage matched the fence they were climbing exactly when the cops arrive, signs and all.
- Still can’t decide if Mos Def’s line reading of “You’re magnetized! You…you erased these tapes!” was good or bad.
- Looking at early casting decisions and thinking how different the movie would be with the initial choice of Dave Chappelle as Mike and Kirsten Dunst as Alma.
- I also loved the little moment in the restaurant where Jerry discusses how wonderful The Lion King is with the worker behind the counter and one of the diners.
- There have probably been other films, but this is the first time I remember seeing Sigourney Weaver pop up briefly to play the secret villain. The other times that comes to mind was Paul and The Cabin in the Woods.