20 Years Ago, ‘State and Main’ was Hollywood Satire, Mamet-Style
There’s a lot of humor to be mined from the idea of Hollywood coastal elites descending on a small town to make a movie, and their Hollywood values clashing with those of the hometown crowd.
In December of 2000, twenty years ago last month, David Mamet’s State and Main executed that formula, adding a heavy dose of cynicism (and occasional shots of hope). It was the darkest of dark comedies, one full of fantastic, rapid-fire dialogue. It’s kind of like Veep, only about a small-town movie shoot instead of politics.
It’s kind of like Veep, only about a small-town movie shoot instead of politics
Mamet, the famous playwright, was in the middle of a run where he directed a bunch of movies, set all of State and Main prior to the start of production on a film called “The Old Mill,” which a Hollywood crew is filming in a tiny town in Vermont. It’s standing in for New Hampshire, from which the production had to flee following accusations of certain assignations by leading man Bobby Barrenger (Alec Baldwin, reuniting with the writer of Glengarry Glen Ross).
William H. Macy is the rage-prone director. He played a meek production hanger-on (and wife-murderer) three years earlier in Boogie Nights, but here he steps to the front, with a much showier role (“Your wife’s on the phone”/”I HAVE NO WIFE!”).
Sarah Jessica Parker, a couple of years into Sex and the City was the leading lady, holding up the production for $800,000 in order to agree to a nude scene (having just watched the documentary Skin: A History of Nudity in Film on Hulu, it’s clear that this type of pressure typically doesn’t go in that direction). Meanwhile, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the film’s incongruously decent screenwriter, a playwright who gets into a sweet romance with the local bookstore owner (Rebecca Pidgeon, who is married to Mamet).
There’s angst, and anger, especially when Baldwin’s character gets caught with another underaged girl (Julia Stiles). The movie’s “happy ending” is that the authorities are bribed so that Bobby can get away with statutory rape – and the one doing the bribing is David Paymer, playing a Hollywood producer as an over-the-top collection of Jewish stereotypes.
Yes, it’s a lot of stuff that wouldn’t fly today, but hey, that’s why the movie was made then, and not now.
Of course, there are a few things that ground the film in the year 2000, including a joke about product placement for a computer company called Bazoomer.com (a URL that still works, with references to the film). And at tone point, a character calls something absurd, and Pidgeon says “so is our electoral process, but we still vote,” a line that landed better than it would have since the film was released just weeks after the Florida recount.
State and Main is currently available for streaming in Starz and is remembered, along with Get Shorty in 1995 Wag the Dog two years after that, as one of the best of a run of sharp satires about Hollywood, by Hollywood.