My first exposure to Michel Gondry was Volume 3 of his Director's Works set, thanks to a friend, Jimmy Holliday, whose habit back then was to put on music videos during mild hangout sessions to fill the gap between conversation lulls/bong refills. While both Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham serviced this idea quite well, Gondry's music videos made conversation an impossibility. Each video was a new idea, a new way to challenge and bend the medium. Watching was nothing short of magical. (Two favorites are Come Into My World and Let Forever Be).
It only took a short time for Gondry to mirror this magic in full-length features, decimating Spike Jonze's track record with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. All was well and good with the world, but coming close to repeating that feat is hard for even Gondry to do.
Be Kind Rewind is yet another slideshow of Gondry's eccentricities; among other things, it's a glimpse into his playground, a bridge between the darkside of The Science of Sleep and the lightside of Human Nature, and a welcome area to dream. The techniques he uses are less like tools and more like toys, and wielded so expertly that the execution is practically a physical manifestion of his own imagination (techniques which more than resemble his video for Lucas with the Lid Off.)
Even given this, the film is never overly self-indulgent. His characters, in this oddball fucking universe he has created, feel very real, and even though the opposing force in the film is more of a bully than a villain, their struggle against it is admirable.
Having made some films after high school (bad ones), what Be Kind Rewind manages best is to capture the excitement of getting together with friends and working hard at creating something, and having a blast while doing it. While my friends and I never made an entire city block giddy with appreciative laugher (Be Kind's largest but only major shortcoming), we managed one or two films to be proud of.
That's what I love most about the director. Cliches and conventions can provide the techniques but aren't a requirement. Hollywood may have built the industry, but it does not have a monopoly on creativity or ingenuity. Michel Gondry and his films are living proof of that.