Dir: David Mamet. US. 2000. 106 mins.
Prod cos: Green, Renzi Productions, El Dorado Pictures. US dist: Fine Line. Int'l sales: Filmtown International (1) 323 464 6644. Exec prod: Alec Baldwin, Jon Cornick. Prod: Sarah Green. Scr: David Mamet. DoP: Oliver Stapleton. Prod des: Gemma Jackson. Ed: Barbara Tulliver. Mus: Theodore Shapiro. Main cast: William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, David Paymer, Rebecca Pigeon, Julia Stiles.
Mamet, the master of the 'talking picture', delivers his most accessible feature to date in this screwball comedy about a small New England town overrun by a Hollywood film crew. It may not meet the mark for Mamet fanatics - the writing here is sharp but not laser sharp, the satire more gentle, perhaps because the target is an easy one - but it certainly pleased those at the Toronto festival press and industry screening. There's more name brand recognition to help draw audiences but word of mouth may work against it if viewers are expecting a sexier expose.
A nifty title sequence intercut with leader and a groovy score from Theodore Shapiro set the rhythm, and Mamet regular Macy leads the rapid-fire charge. As the director of the film, he finds the exact point of caricature and then takes a step back. Indeed, the whole cast finds this sweet spot - playing it straight in roles that would otherwise be over the top. Alec Baldwin as the leading man with the taste for teenage girls, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the put-upon playwright turned screenwriter whose baby is about to be boiled, Sarah Jessica Parker as the Actress with the standard neuroses and David Paymer as the shark producer.
When Baldwin's leading man is accused of statutory rape of the local diner's willing teenage waitress (Julia Stiles), Hoffman's writer is the only witness. Guided by the town's bookseller (Mamet's muse Rebecca Pigeon), he has to decide whether to sacrifice his soul or his career. Mamet directs the verbal traffic with his usual aplomb; like all Mamet films, the film would be as happy on a stage. Unlike most latter-day screwball comedies, this one actually makes a satisfying landing, with a charming sleight-of-hand from Pidgeon.