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Sundance Review: ‘Be Kind Rewind’ is Michel Gondry for Regular Folks

Jack Black and Mos Def remake all of your old favorites in this brilliant comedy from director Michel Gondry.
By  · Published on February 22nd, 2008

(Note: This review was written during the Sundance Film Festival in January, but we are reposting it to coincide with the film’s release this weekend.)

There are many people, especially out there in the world of regular folks (read: that area between where New York City ends and Los Angeles County begins) that know the name Michel Gondry, but couldn’t tell you what the hell kinds of movies he has made. It’s sad really, as Gondry is one of the most visionary directors of the past decade. With films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, Gondry always delivers a sense of clever oddity that is very refreshing.

With his latest film Be Kind Rewind, Gondry has made his most accessible film — something that almost anyone can enjoy. It is the story of two friends, Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def) who accidentally erase all of the video tapes in the neighborhood video store where Mike works. While Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), the store’s owner is away on a trip they are under the watchful eye of Ms. Kimberly (Mia Farrow), a close friend of Mr. Fletcher. And now Ms. Kimberly wants to watch Ghostbusters and they’ve accidentally erased the tape. So rather than allow Ms. Kimberly to find out and ultimately tell Mr. Fletcher about what happened, they decide to make her Ghostbusters on their own — she’s never seen it, so she would never even notice, right?

She may not notice, but her thug wannabe grandson surely did. But instead of wanting their money back, he and his friends decide that Mike and Jerry’s version of Ghostbusters is better — and they want more movies. This sets off a domino effect that leads to lines around the corner of the once struggling and soon to be condemned old video store, filled with people who want their favorite movies, but in the “Sweded” variety.

“Sweding” is the fictional name the Jerry gives to the process of them making all of their own movies. And now, joined by the cute, vivacious Alma (Melonie Diaz) they set out to remake movies like Rush Hour 2, Robocop and Driving Miss Daisy for the people of their neighborhood. It is a charming story of two friends just trying to do what they can to save the video store from being turned into condominiums. Have we seen that story before? Absolutely. But not quite like this.

The winning qualities of this film lie in the vision of Michel Gondry and the wonderful cast that he has assembled to tell this fun, quirky story of friendship. Fans of Gondry will see his thumbprint all over this film, from his very cool visual style to the very engaging characters. The difference here is that it never gets too weird. There is no moment in Be Kind Rewind that will have the average moviegoer scratching their head. It is a Gondry movie that is simplified, streamlined, sold out and polished for the mainstream — and it is absolutely brilliant.

The cast makes the transition from odd to accessible work, as Jack Black and Mos Def are a great combination on screen. Black’s spastic nature combined with Mos Def’s cool, yet geeky persona make for a tandem that is entertaining and engaging — which is all that we really need them to be. Melonie Diaz is also very funny, in a quirky, cute nerdy girl sort of way. She is the geeky girl next door that every movie geek hopes to some day find and marry — quickly. It all just adds up to a movie that deserves the wide release that it will get next month — because more people really need to discover the always fresh, always entertaining world of Michel Gondry.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)