Being a big fan of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and hearing what this one was about, I was pretty eager to see it. I imagined it would be all about the love of movies through the homemade parodies the two characters make of them, and that we’d see lots of those parodies. We find out otherwise.
The movie begins with Jack Black as Jack Black, er, I mean Jerry, and Mos Def as Mike painting a graffiti advertisement for the nearby video store they work at in Passaic, New Jersey. They also paint a picture of Fats Waller, who the owner of the store, Danny Glover as Mr. Fletcher, says once lived in the building the store is in.
The store itself is a run-down heap with a few VHS tapes spread out across its many shelves, and various other bric-a-brac. They live down the street from this huge power plant, and at the beginning of the movie are wearing colanders on their heads, ostensibly to protect themselves from the electromagnetic radiation. Mr. Fletcher goes away for the weekend to spy on the chain video store and glean their secrets [I think their secret is they carry DVDs and have a selection]. While away, Jerry has an idea to sabotage the power plant, for which he camouflages them in a way that results in one of the most amusing touches of the movie. But Jerry accidentally gets electrified and becomes magnetized. The next time he visits the store he ends up erasing all of the tapes. There’s also all this stuff about magnetic urine, semi-amusing.
Blah, blah, soon Mia Farrow wants to rent Ghostbusters, and the two hit upon the idea to just film themselves acting it out with whatever props are on hand. The vagaries of editing are elided over. Turns out—she loves it! And wants more. And invites her friends. And soon the guys are doing a business in producing such parodies, a process they refer to as “Sweding.”
Okay, so bring on the parodies. That’s the shit I paid money to see. Unfortunately, the movie all but leaves them out. We see a few snatches here and there, including one typical Michel Gondry montage in which they all seem to flow into one another, but for the most part the focus is on the two guys and the people of the community. Isn’t that sweet? But you know what, if I wanted to see an urban community coming together, I would watch Sesame Street. I want to see movie parodies. A note during the credits tells us that we can watch the Sweded movies at the website for this movie. Oh—so I didn’t need to see your movie at all. Thanks for telling me now.
Incidentally, this sort of thing is not unheard-of, as I’m still kicking myself for not going to see a full-length parody/remake these two kids made of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which ended up getting the attention of Steven Spielberg [who was delighted] and ended up receiving very limited showings across the country. I’ll bet you $10 that’s on YouTube.
But no, here it’s all about people coming together to memorialize their beloved local video store and the individual values it represents. That’s sweet, but it’s not what I wanted to see. This is made a little worse by the whole thing having the air of a foreigner [Gondry is French] making a statement about American communities and values, resulting in an oversentimentalized, pre-processed feel that is heavy on quirky cliches and shallow affection. You are in the “Just For Fun” section of your local greeting card store: The Movie.
Toward the end there is a moment of community togetherness that strains for Frank Capra-style heartwarming, and while I appreciate that the movie remains about the feeling and avoids a miraculous last-minute rescue, it’s all a bit po-faced and prefabricated. You leave having spent a perfectly pleasant and somewhat bland [quirky-bland, but bland nonetheless] 90 minutes. This movie might have been better during the high summer, when a wish to pass time in air conditioning might have added greatly to its reason for being.
Oh, and my friend felt that the first 15 minutes could have been dropped completely without losing anything. And we arrived after the movie had started.
It’s a perfectly fine time-passer, but it could have been a lot more.