Michel Gondry [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Science of Sleep] makes post-modern films that are usually more about subtext than what you see onscreen. While that may be true of Be Kind Rewind, there is so much on the surface that audiences won’t really need to understand the subtext to have a good time.
Mike [Jack Black] and Jerry [Mos Def] have been friends forever. Mike is a conspiracy theory nut who lives in a small mobile home and works at a garage. Jerry has been raised by Mr. Fletcher [Danny Glover], the owner of a video store that only carries VHS tapes. While Mr. Fletcher is away on a research trip, Mike has an accident that magnetizes his body and proceeds to erase every video in the store. Adding to the urgency of the plot is a plan to raze the building for a new condo complex.
When Miss Falewicz [Mia Farrow] returns a rental because the tape has been erased, Mike and Jerry decide to remake the movie themselves. Before long, they have a following for their versions of films like Robocop, Driving Miss Daisy and Ghostbusters. They tell folks they should enjoy these “sweded” versions more because they’re shorter…
Now, I have no idea where the term “sweded” comes from – other than an obvious connection to Sweden that doesn’t explain how the country plays into their no-budget remakes – but I can say that the subtext of Be Kind Rewind works on several levels, including the idea that movies are an art form and not just a machine to generate cash flow, and that, in some mysterious way, we [the audience] come to a position of ownership of our favorite films based on our enjoyment of them and the importance they play in our lives.
On the surface, Be Kind Rewind is about two guys who discover the joys of filmmaking and their customers, who come to enjoy their productions because of their heart and soul. The “sweded” versions of the big name films mentioned are fun in and of themselves, but it’s even more fun to watch them being produced literally on demand [a customer asks to rent a movie and the boys go out and make for the customer to rent the next day].
Of course, word gets out to Very Important People and the video store is hit with copyright infringement lawsuits – which lead Mike and Jerry to their blinding flash of insight moment when they decide to turn a story Mr. Fletcher told Jerry [about how Fats Waller was really from Passaic, New Jersey] into a mockumentary.
As I watched Be Kind Rewind, I got the feeling that there was a joke that I wasn’t being let in on – a feeling that all of Gondry’s films [and this one in particular] are, in a sense, sweded. He deals with things that are essential to human sanity: memories, dreams and art. His films have a cobbled together look that is a cinematic version of Mike and Jerry’s tapes. Because they are not extravaganzas – and yet are far more sophisticated than they appear on the surface – they have the same kind of appeal.
No matter. Be Kind Rewind is fun just as a wonderful bit of whimsy that makes us feel good. If Jack black goes over the top with his antics, they are balanced out by Mos Def’s solidity and Danny Glover’s good-natured gravity. If the film isn’t as grandly ambitious as earlier efforts, it may be because sometimes small, personal ambitions are all we really need to inspire us – as Mike and Jerry’s decision inspires their former dry cleaner’s assistant and female lead, Alma [Melonie Diaz] to drop what she’s doing and help them make their movies.
Be Kind Rewind is fun on every level. Its unique energy and odd mix of slapstick and genuine wit make it a pleasure to take in.
Final Grade: B+