State and Main

Directed by David Mamet
Starring (alphabetically): Alec Baldwin, Charles Durning, Clark Gregg, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Patti LuPone, William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, David Paymer, Rebecca Pidgeon, Julia Stiles.
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexual images.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
January 13, 2001

Several films from 2000 were about writers. Generally, the act of writing isn't very cinematic, so that was a really uncommon trend. However, looking at most films about writers, there is a common element: typewriters. Even in the age of word processing, modern characters prefer the good old-fashioned clickety-click of the venerable contraption. From Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys to Philip Seymour Hoffman in his latest role in State and Main, writers in the year 2000 have absolutely insisted on typewriters. From a cinematic standpoint, the action of a mechanical typewriter is far more interesting than a static computer, so screenwriters have made the old machines significant plot points. Acclaimed playwright David Mamet, who wrote and directed State and Main, practically centered his film around a typewriter. But it works, so you won't hear me complaining.

Hoffman plays a playwright named Joe White whose first screenplay is being filmed by director Walt Price (William H. Macy). After some problems trying to film in New Hampshire, they move production to the small town of Waterford, Vermont. The title of the film is The Old Mill, and there is supposed to be an old mill in Waterford that would be perfect. Somebody failed to mention that the mill burned down in 1960, but the studio has run out of money, so they have to shoot anyway.

With the absence of an old mill, significant changes need to be made to the screenplay (like the title, for instance). Joe lost his typewriter when the production moved, so he finds an old bookstore that sells vintage machines. The owner, Ann (Rebecca Pidgeon), fixes one up for him.

The rest of the film goes between a developing relationship between Joe and Ann (who is engaged to a local politician) and the problems on the set, including a leading man (Alec Baldwin) who chases young girls and a leading lady (Sarah Jessica Parker) who refuses to do her nude scene. These are all characters that Mamet knows well, having spent almost as much time in Hollywood as he has on Broadway.

I'd have to assume that Mamet's own sets were never run as poorly Walt Price's, otherwise he would not be able to create films as entertaining as State and Main. It's certainly not the first film to depict the conflict between urbane Hollywood people and small town folk, but definitely one of the best. Mamet's sharp humor combined with a great cast keeps the film moving.

It's nice that 2000 finally yielded some entertaining films, even though most of them weren't widely released until 2001. It seems that most of the best films were about writers, including Joe Gould's Secret, Almost Famous, Quills, and Finding Forrester. And none of them used computers.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
State and Main (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
State and Main (2000) -- VHS
State and Main (2000) -- DVD
State and Main: The Shooting Script, by David Mamet -- Paperback
State and Main: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan