Review: Be Kind, Rewind (2008)

The handcrafted genius of the director’s music videos, in wholesome feature film form.

Michel Gondry-as-music-video director is undeniably genius. Gondry-as-movie-buff is delightful. It’s hard not to get the impression that Petit Gondry was Sweding movies all through his childhood – and he clearly still is, within the bigger-budget framework of Be Kind, Rewind. It’s as inspiring as the idea of imagination transcending resources (or lack thereof) should be.

While there’s so much visual inventiveness and heart, the writing doesn’t quite measure up. Yasiin Bey (then known as Mos Def) and Jack Black are two born entertainers. And yet in this, at best they’re caricatures of themselves, and at worst they’re… less? The earnest, sweetly emotional finale plays like Gondry’s own passionate love of film, visualised; the story and execution leading to it are charmingly childlike.

This might feel more fulfilling, if we didn’t have the example of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), in which Gondry’s mind-bendingly playful visuals are counterpoint to Charlie Kaufman‘s emotional, essentially dark story. The balance in that film results in something not merely transcendent (as if that weren’t enough), but also more accessible, if not poignant, than either creator has managed on his own. In such a formidable shadow, Be Kind, Rewind, while beamingly creative and lovely, falls just shy of out-and-out greatness.

Further Viewing

Beyond the film, however, something wonderful happened: Gondry inspired audiences to produce “Sweded” films of their own: