John Harkness of Now Toronto once said that Frank Darabont makes Beaches for men. Darabont is an expert manipulator. Not only many of the films in Frank Capra’s canon, Darabont’s films make it okay for grown men to cry. The Majestic finds a presumptuous Darabont openly vying for Capra cred and, well, succeeding. The director’s latest is so fond of schmaltz and group gatherings you’d swear you were watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—the only thing missing here is the Christmas fuzzies of It’s a Wonderful Life. Sans satirical thrust, The Majestic apes lesser Capra and is therefore instantly disposable. However nostalgic and naïve Darabont may come across, The Majestic remains a successful experiment in art-imitating-art. That is, of course, if your willing to call The Majestic, or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for that matter, an example of high art.
Senator Joseph McCarthy is hot for Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey), a Hollywood B-movie writer vying for A-movie cred. Peter dodges a hedgehog, goes amnesiac and becomes a small town’s prodigal son. He’s mistaken for the presumably dead WWII soldier Luke Trimble, son of movie house manager Harry (a ghoulish Martin Landau). Darabont’s small town America is all post-war disillusionment; in effect, the faux-Luke’s arrival is of the Messianic kind. It takes about one cinematic beat before Harry and the gang decide to reopen the run-down Majestic movie house. Familial wounds heal, a town reclaims its love for the movies and Peter finds love atop a lighthouse with Luke’s old flame Adele (Laurie Holden).
Not unlike Capra, Darabont is a master cop-out artist (see Harry’s happy demise). The details, though, are clever (a lighthouse matte shot worthy of Hitchcock) and sweetly ironic (The Sand Pirates of the Sahara, a film penned by the dopey Peter, cures his amnesia). By overtly referencing cinema’s past, Darabont emphasizes the innocence of The Majestic. A different film (not necessarily a better one) might have toyed with the mystique of group solidarity; indeed, The Majestic is so unabashedly old-fashioned the only thing missing is a Shirley Jackson clincher. Peter comes to town, goes to Washington and gives it to McCarthy. It’s difficult not to think of Elia Kazan when Peter engages the Constitution, but is Darabont taking a conscious jab at Kazan when A Streetcar Named Desire is seen playing at the Majestic? Regardless, The Majestic is Darabont’s pure-hearted Capra riff, efficient retro-Hollywood cheese where the good guy wins.