By now, we know Michel Gondry as a highly eccentric filmmaker. With works like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep” to the most recent “The Book of Solutions,” Gondry has refused to fit himself into conventional storytelling norms. His editing choices seem intentionally confusing and absurd, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In his 2008 film, “Be Kind Rewind,” Gondry channels his trademark narration style to explore themes like racism, gentrification, and capitalism. While doing so, he returns to explain his love for cinema and the invaluable autonomy to make films when one wants to talk about things that aren’t driven plainly by the logistics.

Spoilers Ahead

Be Kind Rewind (2008) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Written & directed by Michel Gondry, “Be Kind Rewind” is a buddy comedy starring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Jack Black in the central roles. It shows an ageing VHS store owner trying to save his store from getting demolished by the local authorities. While he is away working on a plan, his employee starts a new side of their business with his friend, which becomes surprisingly popular.

What happens in ‘Be Kind Rewind’?

“Be Kind Rewind” revolves around the attempts to save the titular VHS rental store in Passaic, New Jersey. This is from a period when VHS rental was a declining business, and DVDs were the new & exciting way to watch movies. During this transition period, the store owner, Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover), struggles to keep his business afloat. Besides, his building is being considered as a slum. So, the city officials led by Mr Baker (P. J. Byrne) offer Elroy 60 days to upgrade it to the required standards, or they’ll demolish it and relocate him to the projects.

Worried about the future of his store, Elroy decides to travel with his friends to discover modern ways to help retain his business. While he is away, he leaves Mike Coolwell (Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def) in charge of the store. Before leaving, he tells Mike not to let his friend, Jerry McLean (Jack Black), in the store, but Mike misinterprets it. Jerry works in a junkyard, lives in a van, and often spews conspiracy theories. One of his theories is that a power plant is melting his brain and controlling his mind toward consumerism. Mike finds that ludicrous. But he still joins Jerry to sabotage a nearby electrical substation.

Jerry’s Strange Transformation

While helping Jerry with his mission, Mike suddenly understands Elroy’s message and abandons Jerry. So, Jerry attempts the mission himself. But he receives an electric shock that leaves him magnetized. The next day, he returns to the store and starts harassing a customer. During this time, he inadvertently erases the data on all the VHS tapes. So, the customers start showing up at the store expecting a full refund for their empty tapes. Meanwhile, Elroy calls his friend, Ms Falewicz (Mia Farrow) to keep watch on Mike while he is away. Later, she shows up at the store to find Mike & Jerry fighting. Regardless, she asks for a tape of “Ghostbusters.” Mike tells her to return the next day.

The Revised Tapes

Be Kind Rewind (2008) Movie Ending Explained - hof
A still from “Be Kind Rewind” (2008)

Since Ms. Falewicz hasn’t seen “Ghostbusters,” Mike decides to shoot a movie frugally by himself. After all, how would she know that the film is not legit? Jerry is initially not on board with this idea. But he eventually agrees. So, they shoot the film in nearby locations, with the props they can get their hands on. After they rent that roughly 20-minute film, another customer comes for a copy of “Rush Hour 2.” Mike asks him to come back the next day. While shooting the duplicate film, their castmate bails on them.

So, the duo brings Alma Sykes (Melonie Diaz), an intelligent laundromat worker, to their team as an actress for a kissing scene. But she quickly starts carrying on more responsibilities and becomes an irreplaceable part of their team. She also helps Jerry get demagnetized and saves his life. After they rent their second self-produced tape, Mike starts worrying that they will get caught and questioned if they continue doing this. Later, a group of young men watch the “Ghostbusters” tape and show up outside the store. Mike & Jerry assume they are there to beat them up. But they were just looking for another tape.

The ‘Sweded’ Versions

Since the men insist they want similar movies, Mike suddenly cooks up a lie to overcharge people. He says that the movies are ‘Sweded’. Then, to cover up this random choice of words, he says that the tapes are imported from Sweden! Thus, the high prices. He promises to get the tapes ready by the next afternoon. After shooting their versions of “The Lion King” and “RoboCop,” Mike, Jerry & Alma return to the store to find a long line of people waiting to get their ‘sweded’ movies. Then, Ms. Falewicz asks for a copy of ‘Driving Ms. Daisy,” thinking it is a well-meaning, heartfelt film.

Mike tries to make Ms. Falewicz understand the problematic racial stereotypes in this film. But he still goes ahead with shooting it with Jerry. In the near future, Jerry becomes a local star and starts expecting a star treatment. Together, the team keeps churning out version after version of different movies. Be it “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Carrie,” they are ready to make anything the customers want. Meanwhile, Elroy returns to New Jersey with a plan to revamp his store with DVDs. But the city officials do not share his enthusiasm. He then returns to the store to find a line of customers looking for tapes.

The Future of the Store

Elroy appreciates the creativity Mike, Jerry, and Alma put in their hustle. But he doesn’t think it will get them money back in time. So, he decides to turn it into a DVD store. To save their mission, Alma thinks they should let the customers be a part of these movies as a personalization. It will give them added satisfaction and rapidly grow their sales. As she predicted, they make a lot of money within a short span. But it all goes to waste when government attorney Ms. Lawson (Sigourney Weaver) shows up to seize their ‘sweded’ videos under the copyright infringement law. So, all the money they made goes to waste, along with the assets.

Be Kind Rewind (2008) Movie Ending Explained:

Do Elroy, Mike, and Jerry save their VHS store from getting demolished?

After Ms. Lawson destroys all their videos, Mike loses all hope in his work. But Jerry and a group of their cultivated fans gather to make a film with his own ideas. Mike agrees. Together, they decide to make a film about renowned jazz pianist Fats Waller. In the past, Elroy claimed that Fats was born in his building to save the store from the city officials. Now, he admits that it was a lie. Regardless, they collectively decide to rewrite their past with a documentary with an alternate history called “Fats Waller was Born Here.” Together, they make this movie with frugal production design and shooting choices across their city.

Be Kind Rewind (2008) Movie Ending Explained
Another still from “Be Kind Rewind” (2008)

In the end, the people gather in the store to watch the movie. Mike brings a TV so that everyone can see it. But he accidentally breaks it. So, they are left with a well-wisher’s video projector. Before the film begins, Mike tells Ms. Falewicz that the store will get demolished right after the film ends due to insufficient funds. Then, they project their film on a piece of cloth tied to a window that keeps a large crowd hooked outside the store. Once the cast and crew walk out of the store, the crowd applauds for them. Mr. Baker says something to Elroy & Ms. Falewicz that we do not hear. It is likely that he reconsidered his stance.

What does the ‘Be Kind Rewind’ ending mean?

At the end of “Be Kind Rewind,” Elroy, Mike, and Jerry watch a movie with an alternate version of their past with a large group of people. It entertains them all, including city official Mr. Baker. So, he says something to Elroy, which seems purposefully left inaudible. It is not clear if the store gets demolished or not. But the movie offers Elroy a chance to write their alternate history. Besides, it offers Mike, Jerry, and Alma a way to escape the brutal, inescapable nature of change through their creativity. They gain a sense of autonomy through their creative remakes.

At the beginning of the film, Jerry brings a ‘Stick it to the man’ (also a Jack Black role from “School of Rock”) energy to the discussion but uses it in being a “Rebel without a cause.” Toward the end, the moviemaking without external validation allows him, Mike, Alma, and Elroy a chance to actually be a voice of change against the silencing authorities.

Why is the film titled ‘Be Kind Rewind’?

The term Be Kind Rewind was commonly used for video rental cassettes when they were at the peak of their popularity in America. Since the film revolves around a VHS store, it is titled “Be Kind Rewind.”

Read More: 10 Great Dark Comedy Movies From The 20th Century

Trailer:

 

Be Kind Rewind (2008) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of Be Kind Rewind (2008) Movie: Yasiin Bey, Danny Glover, Jack Black, Melonie Diaz, Mia Farrow, Sigourney Weaver, Chandler Parker, Irv Gooch, Arjay Smith, Quinton Aaron
Be Kind Rewind (2008) Movie Genre: Comedy | Runtime: 1h 41m
Where to watch Be Kind Rewind

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