My first exposure to director Michel Gondry’s work was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). I love that movie. Such is my admiration for that work that I was pumped to see Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005), though that probably had more to do with Dave Chappelle. I say that because while I liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I did not pay much attention to its director. Call me a poor movie critic, but that is not something I typically do, with a few notable exceptions. I will see anything that Edgar Wright does. Getting back to Gondry, oddly enough it was Dave Chappelle’s Block Party that put him on my radar. Hence, when today’s film, Be Kind Rewind (2008), started debuting trailers, his name clinched my decision to see it. I am glad I did, too, because it is a sweet movie, and one that can appeal to even the most amateur of cinephiles.
As the title might suggest, Be Kind Rewind focuses on a VHS rental store of the same name in Passaic, New Jersey, a heavily urbanized suburb of New York City. It is not set in the 1980s, by the way, but in modern times. It is owned by the well-meaning, but technologically inept Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover). In addition to hanging onto his declining business, he cannot give in to demands to demolish the crumbling building in which it is located because of its supposed connection to his favorite jazz performer, Passaic’s own Fats Waller. Elroy claims that Waller was born inside these walls. The city gives him sixty days to fix the decrepit building or they will tear it down. This would not only be bad for him, but also for his one employee, Mike Coolwell (Yasiin Bey), who also lives on the premises. Elroy leaves on a trip, ostensibly for an annual meet up with fellow Fats Waller enthusiasts, but also to do research on how other video rental stores at that time conduct business. He gives control of the store to Mike with one command: do not let Mike’s chaotic friend Jerry McLean (Jack Black) inside. Jerry seems to cause damage wherever he goes. The problem is that Elroy delivers the message just as he is getting on his train, causing him to write it out backwards and Mike not understanding the words. This would not be an issue if it were not for Jerry’s nature. Living next to a power transformer, he believes that it is messing with his mind. Hence, he decides to sabotage it. In the process, he is electrocuted, which also results in him being magnetized. The next day a disoriented Jerry wanders into the store, and randomly walks up and down the aisles. His condition erases all the tapes. Mike becomes aware of this the next day when customers start returning movies with complaints that there is nothing on them. Gradually it dawns on Mike what has happened, which is reinforced as he tries every tape in the VCR. Seeing his hope of making a good impression on Elroy vanishing, he particularly scrambles when the boss’s sweetheart, Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow), comes in wanting to rent Ghostbusters (1984). Mike gets her to agree to come back later, grabs an old camcorder, and along with Jerry refilms his own version of Ghostbusters. Though Miss Falewicz seems none the wiser, her nephew comes back and wonders if they have any other movies like it. Jerry tries to tell them that it is a special version made in Sweden, but it leads them to begin remaking all the movies in the store. It becomes an unexpected hit, and Elroy is surprised to find a busy store when he returns from his trip. His initial ideas of scrapping their inventory for DVDs is soon abandoned when he notices the success they are having. Soon, remaking the movies becomes a community effort. Just as Elroy is beginning to believe that they will be able to make the money they need to save the building, a studio executive, Ms. Lawson (Sigourney Weaver), arrives with threats of hefty fines they cannot pay unless their entire stock is destroyed. In response, all the tapes are put out into the street and ran over with a steamroller. Dejected, Elroy reveals to Mike that he invented the story about Fats Waller being born in the building, and agrees to vacate the premises. Yet, Mike comes up with an idea. Getting everyone in the community together for one last shoot, they make a documentary about the life of the legendary jazz musician. It premiers on the day that the building is supposed to be torn down. With construction vehicles ready to go, the residents who had a hand in its development gather to see their work. The projection also halts the crew as people gather outside to watch the proceedings. So moved is the city official on hand for the demolition that he seems to put a halt to the work, and that is where the film ends.
What impresses me as a Catholic the most about watching Be Kind Rewind is seeing the way the community gets behind this one antiquated store. The sequences where they are redoing the movies is funny, but it is the group effort that makes it sweet. There is an old saying about how “it takes a village” to raise a child, though it gets applied to many other things in our society. Christianity, from the beginning, was always this way, and continues to be. In Catholicism, specifically, you have a number of different kinds of communities, the parish being the most ubiquitous and visible. It is always wonderful to see at the Easter Vigil the way everyone present responds to those who are coming into the Church for the first time. Like preventing an old VHS rental business from being demolished, the primary function of these events is to save souls. It takes many different people working together to prepare a person for this moment, just like so many people in the movie contributed to making the Fats Waller documentary. Christianity, too, is not the result of any one person controlling every last detail of its growth. The primary motivator in all this is the Holy Spirit, and has been since Jesus’ Ascension. He has provided what we needed throughout time, and thousands have answered the call. I could go on about the parallels between group efforts here, but I think you have the main point.
I wholeheartedly recommend Be Kind Rewind. It is one of the more earnest stories I know, uncluttered by much of the garbage that you see in most Hollywood releases. Further, it is fun to see the different, low-budget ways they come up with for doing the special effects in the movies they remake. If you want to feel good about watching a movie, see this one.