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Be Kind Rewind (2008)

I’m starting to think that while Michel Gondry is a competent director and a master stylist, the only great film he ever had in him was by Charlie Kaufman.

Be Kind has a premise that plays directly to Gondry’s DIY aesthetic: Jack Black gets magnetized and erases the all-VHS stock of Mos Def’s video store, so the two of them start to remake the movies the customers request, using not much more than cardboard, paint and neighbours. These parts are perfectly aligned with Gondry’s hipster whimsy — Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, Driving Miss Daisy and The Lion King all get “sweded”. And it’s awesome. It’s clever and hilarious and inspiring — hell, it made me want to make my own films again. Unfortunately, somebody decreed that there had to be an actual movie around those scenes, with a storyline and characters and everything. And that very concept, I think, is the opposite of what Gondry is really about, or at least what he’s good at. I don’t mind seeing the seams in the actual filmmaking process, but the jury-rigged story (bless its French-accented little heart) is trying to say something about who owns culture, but instead unravels into a mess of undefined characters and loose ends.

Plus, the fact that it supposedly cost $20 million makes the whole thing seem disingenuous and perplexing. After watching the amusingly “sweded” videos on YouTube (including Gondry’s own home-made version of the trailer), I wonder if the end result would have been better had it been made for a quarter of that budget.