Michel Gondry began making a name for himself in the music video world. He plied his trade with such artists as Beck, Bjork, The White Stripes, and The Chemical Brothers. In 2001, Gondry made his first appearance a big screen director with Human Nature. Since then, he has been behind a series of interesting and quirky films that succeed to varying degrees.
His latest feature is Be Kind, Rewind, a fun little film that pays tribute to the old school communities and conveys a genuine love for the cinema. It has a delightful do-it-yourself aura and provides genuine laughs and plenty of heart. Is not perfect, but it builds up plenty of goodwill that helps you look past its faults and focus on what it gets right.
Watching Be Kind, Rewind I was reminded of a film made more than twenty years ago. The two movies would not seem to have a lot in common and I may be misremembering the facts, but the connection is in the genuine heart of its respective characters. That other film? It is none other than *batteries not included. That film concerned a group of tenants in a building slated to be torn down who receive help from an unlikely source. The community of modern day Passaic, New Jersey, bands together for the simple reason that they are a community. It really is touching, even if it ends up being a small part of the whole.
As Gondry's film opens. we learn of a jazz musician, Fats Waller, and how he was born in what would become the Be Kind, Rewind video rental shop. We are told of how he was the center of the community and its claim to fame. It is a story that has become something of a legend, with each family claiming a piece of the whole.
The story then shifts to Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover); he is the owner of the video shop and keeper of the tales of Fats Waller. He is also the father figure to Mike (Mos Def), a young man who works in the shop and has deep feelings for Mr. Fletcher and the community. He is best friends with Jerry (Jack Black), a slightly goofy and immature mechanic who lives in an RV in a junkyard adjacent to a power plant (causing him and any guest to wear colanders on their heads to protect themselves).
Anyway, Mr. Fletcher has to leave town for awhile to research the competition and find a way to make his business more profitable. You see, his building is about to be condemned to make room for one that looks better, to supposedly improve the community. Well, he leaves town and places Mike in charge of the shop during his absence.
Mike wants to do good by the man who has treated him so well for so long, so when Jerry has a cockeyed scheme to strike a blow at his power plant neighbors, Mike bows out. What happens next provides the main thrust of the film and spurs much of the comedy.
Jerry winds up magnetized, and one unfortunate stop at the store erases all of the tapes. Unable to replace all of the tapes, the duo decide to remake the films themselves using whatever they can get their hands on. What follows is something of a "do it yourself" movement as their homemade remakes explode in popularity, and could prove to save the corner shop and help preserve the community.
The story is pretty simple, and is not something we haven't seen before, but it is done here in creative fashion with a cast that is completely behind it and willing to sell it at every turn. Jack Black and Mos Def work well together; they actually seem like longtime friends, at times combative, but always there for each other. Together they work to satisfy their customers and cover up their problem before Mr. Fletcher comes home.
The deeper in they get, the more attention they draw. So, while they are successful, it is bound to fall sooner or later. The last act of the film moves into sentimental mode, but works in a wonderful manner. It shows the community coming together with the same goal in mind. These may be people who have nowhere else to go, but that does not mean they do not have real ties to where they are at the moment. Everyone brings their love of the community to bear as they exemplify the do-it-yourself attitude I keep speaking of. The story comes full circle with regard to Fats Waller, and it demonstrates just what it means to be a member of a community.
Be Kind, Rewind succeeds on a number of levels, from the relationship between Mike and Jerry, to the visual creativity, to the great heart on display. Where it fails is in the plot portion of the story. Everything builds up to the final moments, but that does not seem to be the logical conclusion of our story, merely the emotional high. At this point it just stops, where I believe it should have had a little more closure to the eviction thread, and a bit more about where Mike, Jerry, and Alma (the late-comer to the group played by the fetching Melonie Diaz) go following the climax.
Still, even without the plot wrapping up with a nice little bow, there is a lot to like about this movie. It is completely charming and won me over early on. Michel Gondry is a master of combining visual flair that is flashy yet unassuming with heartfelt characters. He does a nice job of bringing these two together while giving the idea that anyone could do what Mike and Jerry do. It is a nice feeling that just warms the heart. Combine that with the fine performances, and what isn't to like? Granted, it may not be worthy of love, but it is more than worthy of a great deal of like.
Bottom line. This is a delightful film that is small and unassuming, yet delivers one of the better overall experiences of the year. It is a film that wins you over and holds your attention all the way through. Do not doubt the skills of all involved — they all bring their A game to the table. Sit back and enjoy.Powered by Sidelines