This charming little fairy tale is more than a sweet and heart-warming story; it is a thoughtful exploration of the power of stories, why we are enthralled by
hearing and watching them and why we are even more captivated by telling them.
Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) owns a broken-down little video store in a broken-down building in a broken-down neighborhood in Passaic, New Jersey. No DVDs, just videos. The whole place is about to be condemned and torn down to make way for a boring new shoebox of a building. He leaves to investigate the competition, with Mikey (Mos Def) in charge. But Mikey’s best friend Jerry (Jack Black) accidentally erases all the movies. When Mr. Fletcher’s friend (Mia Farrow) asks for Ghostbusters , Mikey and Jerry decide to re-create it for her. Like a game of Telephone or a fax of a fax of a fax, there is some alteration of the underlying material when it is reproduced. For one thing, the new version is only 20 minutes long. When it turns out to be a hit, Mikey and Jerry start re-making everything from Robocop to The Lion King. Suddenly, there are lines of customers wanting the “sweded” editions (the term is an emergency improvisation). But Hollywood sends a lawyer (an hilarious meta cameo from the star of one of the remade films) to shut it down. Will that be the end of the Be Kind Rewind video store? Of the sweded films?
The film is so sweet that it would be easy to dismiss it as a sugary fairy tale, but attentive audience members will find much more. First, it is a passionate and knowing love letter to the movies and our deeply personal connections to them, not just those that are paid tribute through sweding but those glimpsed in posters and those tenderly paid tribute through reference. When a character says that they can get rid of all of the categories in the video store except for action/adventure and comedy, that is not to chide audiences for only wanting to see mindless Hollywood multiplex fodder; it is a meta-statement about stories and how all of them, from “Hamlet” to “Superbad” can be seen as one or the other — or both. Form equals content as this movie demonstrates that sunny does not mean superficial and kindness, a virtue so important it is recognized in the title, does not mean naivite.
Gondry’s understatedly whimsical visuals are not just witty but illuminating as they translate the effects and images of the huge-budget blockbusters from high-tech to high-touch, from pixels to old-school. Some of the visual effects are not just charming and whimsical but genuinely breathtaking, like a camouflage effect that is pure magic. Much of the charm comes from the transformative power and literal re-creation of humble simplicity and found objects, of toys and photocopies and ruins and Christmas decorations. These objects are used to create art the way that the plain and the simple and the base in people’s lives is transformed to give them a glimpse through stories of what their lives can be, of who they can be, of how they can be part of something. A piano keyboard is made up of black and white fingers of the community brought together to make their own epic drama.
The performances feel as improvised and joyous as the sweded films, especially the marvelous Melonie Diaz of Raising Victor Vargas , who has an effervescently natural screen presence that is utterly endearing.
Like the sweded films-within-the-film, “Be Kind Rewind” comments on the irresistible appeal of the movies it loves. As a whole, it is something of a sweded version of Capra’s fables of good, honest people coming together to triumph over meanie money-and-power grubbers, a little smudgy and held together with duct tape, maybe, but all the more fun because of it.
Parents should know that this film has some comic peril and violence (no one badly hurt) and some crude humor, bodily function jokes, and sexual references.
Families who see this film should talk about which movies they would most like to “swede.” Why did the customers prefer the “sweded” films?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Gondry’s The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (mature material). And they should listen to some <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00004X0AT?ie=UTF8&tag=nellminowthemovi&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00004X0AT"Fats Waller, watch Gondry’s “sweded” version of his own trailer and his sweded version of the internet and “swede” your own movies website. You can send in your own sweded movies here.