State and Main
dir. David Mamet
Opens Fri Dec 22
at Guild 45th.

SOMETIMES I have to remind myself that I don't really have any inside knowledge about moviemaking, only the kind of knowingness that results from seeing lots of movies about making movies. That said, I take every word of State and Main as gospel. Well, every word on the Hollywood side, at least. Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and David Paymer descend on a small Vermont town to make a movie, bringing their sophisticated mores with them. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the traditional role of the scriptwriter, one who is in but not of Hollywood, a belletrist with a heart of gold.

The town end is held down by Charles Durning, Clark Gregg, Ricky Jay, Patti LuPone, Matt Malloy, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Julia Stiles... do you begin to see a problem here? Ricky Jay is for me a name to conjure with, a character actor of the first water, but small-town Vermont is not within his ambit. Julia Stiles, as his daughter, loyally mimics his urban whine. Patti LuPone can play a grande dame or a street sweeper, but she is as fixedly big-city as a traffic jam. The disjuncture is especially jarring because (a) we're in the habit of listening to David Mamet with our ears wide open, and (b) he has cast some practiced stage New Englanders in smaller roles. Susan Lyall, who did the costumes, does much to heal the breach. Rebecca Pidgeon may not sound like a Vermont girl, but her little woolen jacket is dead on. (Note to self: Write encomium for current costume directors.)

And really, to tell you the truth, I was laughing too hard to worry about small inaccuracies. Mamet has said that he was thinking of Preston Sturges when he put this film together, and it's a worthy successor to the Master. Some of the jokes are silly, some are wise, but as with Sturges, they just keep coming and coming and coming. If, like many families, yours needs respite on Christmas afternoon, State and Main might just put you back in a good mood.

Barley Blair is the pseudonym of a little old lady who once shook the hand of Eddie Bracken, star of the Preston Sturges masterpiece Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944).