Like a Mr Levitt, or any actor whose name can be preceded with “lovely”, you could say I am a might biased towards the work of Michel Gondry. Well, biased isn’t the right term - I just adore his work. Last year’s Science of Sleep easily claimed a spot on the top ten, and his teaming with the genius of Kaufman on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind earned a place on my top ten of all time (a secret, ever changing list that may occasionally include The Transporter Two if I happen to be in a silly mood and recall the “it’s a potato” line).
So here comes Gondry with his second solo director/writer project, and where Science focussed on his dream obsession, Be Kind Rewind picks out his love for all things homemade. As anyone who has ever attempted it will know, home filmmaking is a monstrously fun mission. My own forays include “Dagger Woman”, an ambitious piece attempted during childhood, set at sea, and filmed in my living room (with a tub of water next to the camera for sound effects) and more recently the formation of DogEgg Productions, which has already spawned two classics with some up and coming stars.
Gondry knows the creativity that flows in even the simplest of pieces, and the joy it can bring to its makers. It’s this simple concept, and that of community, that binds Be Kind, but its premise is slightly more obscure. Mike (Mos Def) runs a video store whose tapes are wiped in a freak accident by his freak friend Jerry (Jack Black). To save the store they’ve got to remake the videos, fast. Cue superb re-hashes of the likes of Ghostbusters, Rush Hour Two, Robocop and Driving Miss Daisy. The film is peppered with Gondryisms, in the ingenious use of household items for props, to the mind boggling effects created from the simplest of ideas, to the rolling shot with switching perspectives, seen in some of his earlier adverts and music videos.
But tramping over Gondry’s charm is a Jack Black shaped nuisance. Stamping his name over every piece of promo for this film clouded many people’s minds into believing this was a “Jack Black comedy”. God forbid. It’s actually almost entirely under Gondry’s control, meaning it’s subtle, gentle, obscure, charming, bizarre. French. But with Jack Black attempting every now and then to do a funny crazy guy rant, the tone is skewed into an unfunny Jack Black moment. It’s almost like they have to stop the film for a minute, let Jack pretend to do his funny bit, then carry on, wincing slightly but knowing that if you didn’t let him do it then he’d never shut up. Example: Black’s endless “I’m wacky” routine pauses and a flash of Gondry appears - an inspired idea for camouflage. Film improves by a million percent. Jack strains to have his moment back again. Film dips.
It’s not that I despise Jack Black. He’s reasonably funny for an unfunny person. I just didn’t think he fit the rest of the film. Mos Def quietly gets on with a cracking yet understated performance. The rest of the neighbourhood are a cornucopia of loveable (if not partially clichéd) misfits. The film doesn’t need a lead comedian because it’s lead isn’t comedy. It’s heart-warming odd-ball type stuff. And though my heart was warmed every time I spotted some Gondry (Christ I don’t half sound obsessed, do I) it was chilled when the tone tried to be something different.
A simple, creative and original piece of film, with discreet comedy and an unfortunate clash in leading styles, Be Kind Rewind didn’t delight as much as I’d hoped, but is still a minty blast of refreshing air, especially after having to sit through a “Meet the Spartans” trailer. It rewinds to a CF2.