State and Main [2000]

Pity the poor film director (William H. Macy). He's arrived with cast and crew in the perfectly Rockwellian town of Waterford, Vermont, only to discover that the local mill--a crucial location for his movie, since it's titled "The Old Mill"--burned down in 1960. The idealistic screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) would rather pursue a pure-hearted local (Rebecca Pidgeon) than do a last-minute rewrite; the town's aspiring politico (Clark Gregg) wants to milk the production for every dime it's worth; the oft-exposed bimbo starlet (Sarah Jessica Parker) is now balking at her contractual nude scene; and a local teenager (Julia Stiles) is only too willing to exploit the indiscretions of the film's skirt-chasing star (Alec Baldwin). And of course, the power-wielding producer (David Paymer) is panicking about everything. Welcome to David Mamet's State and Main, the acclaimed writer-director's funniest and most accessible film to date, propelled by the rocket fuel of Mamet's show-biz experience and driven by an ensemble cast that simply couldn't be better. Naturally, the writer's dilemma is the meatiest one--will he be noble or sell out?--and Mamet arrives at a solution that's as hilarious as it is morally justified. Along the way, the rigors of filmmaking are explored with farcical abandon, such as how to provide a high-tech product placement... in a 19th-century story. Mamet's razor-sharp dialogue is gourmet popcorn here--each kernel yields a tasty surprise--and the whole scenario (intentionally modeled in the style of Preston Sturges) plays out with the breezy assurance of vintage screwball comedy. It's pure gold from start to finish, and even the closing credits offer another reason to laugh. --Jeff Shannon

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