For Your Consideration: Christopher Guest’s Mockumentary

Christopher Guest’s new, funny mockumentary, “For Your Consideration” reaffirms that he is not just an auteur in the true sense of the term, but also a genre onto himself–does anyone in Hollywood do better improv mockumentaries?

Having already spoofed the musical theater (“Waiting for Guffman”), dog shows (“Best in Show”), and country music (“A Mighty Wind”), it was only a matter of time before Guest and his co-writer Eugene Levy would tackle and send up the Hollywood hype machine.

As a satire, the subject is not entirely new. Guest himself has made “The Big Picture,” and other filmmakers, like David Mamet in “State & Main,” and Altman’s more acerbic take in “The Player,” have visited this notorious milieu as well.

But there’s something special about Guest’s work. The outrageously funny “For Your Consideration” delivers with comic precision Guest’s unique sensibility by his excellent repertory company. Guest’s brand of parody is not easy to define. It’s certainly not as crude or campy as the work of other satirists. Guest takes an affectionately human but also poignantly precise and incisive look at the industry obsession with buzz and awards

“For Your Consideration” should thrill fans of Guest’s prior improvisational comedies, including “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show,” but if the new film will recruit many new fans. That said, the audience for Guest’s movies has grown, and his latest, “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind,” grossed over $16 million domestically. His humor may be “too American” to translate national borders.

The incomparably brilliant Catherine O’Hara plays Marilyn Hack, a perennially struggling actress who’s cast as a dying Southern Jewish matriarch in the period melodrama, “Home for Purim.” It’s a small, ultra modest, unremarkable indie–until a movie gossip site singles O’Hara out as an Oscar frontrunner.

The tale revolves around the cast and crew of the would-be costume epic, and the shenanigans that ensue after Oscar buzz begins to spread around. Indeed, “Purim” hits the industry’s radar big time. The studio is now interested, and eager to get its hands into the project to make necessary changes. TV shows want a piece of the cake, too. Even the heads of the screen talent want to get involved.

Guest’s work may lack in mainstream appeal, but his ardent fans should find plenty worth embracing. Take Fred Willard’s entertaining performance as a vacuous, Pat O’Brien-type TV personality, which is one of the film’s highlights

With “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” and “A Mighty Wind,” Guest, who has been working for decades, took the mockumentary approach he had first used in “This Is Spinal Tap” and brought it to the attention and joy of a whole new generation.

You cant’ execute such a fine piece of work without a gifted troupe. Over the years, Guest has assembled a cast of remarkable talent, including Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Bob Balaban and Parker Posey. And he continues to add members to his troupe, such the spectacularly funny Jennifer Coolidge and the deadpan Jane Lynch.
We meet the cast and director of the minor and cheesy “Home for Purim.”

O’Hara’s Marilyn Hack, a once famous actress, is struggling to resuscitate her career. Her costar, Victor Allen Miller (Harry Shearer), once well-respected but now relegated to TV commercials, is eager to regain his stature with his dignity intact. Parker Posey plays Kelly Webb, the actress who plays Hack’s daughter in the spectacle “Purim.”

It all begins with a technician of the crew who says he saw a rumor on an Internet film site that Hack’s performance in Purim might be worthy of an Oscar nomination. From that point on, the buzz around the film builds (or escalates) from low drone to frenzy.

Not just Hack, all the players are eager to be nominated, although they deny caring about it, sort of noblesse oblige. “Big deal” says Hacks with a casual laugh, while shrugging her shoulders.

Willard and Lynch play the hosts of an entertainment TV show that mocks entertainment TV personalities not unlike Entertainment Tonight of Access Hollywood. Willard’s faux-hawk hairdo and Lynch’s pose and look at the camera reflect the incisive humor.

The narrative is episodic by necessity, and if the whole lacks a brilliant spark, most of the parts are very funny, and some display reliably the frenetic energy and zaniness we have come to expect of a Guest work.

In “For Your Consideration,” and Levy depart from the mockumentary format per se and take a more narrative approach, while still retaining the improvisational freedom for the actors and their characters.

As noted, some of the brilliance and energy of Guest’s cast derives from his staging, but also from his generosity and encouragement to improvise. O’Hara is particularly funny later in the film, when she tries to make herself look younger, her face frozen by Botox, as she’s being courted by young talk shows to “talk” about her Oscar chances.

Coolidge shines as the film’s wealthy but vacuously clueless producer. Guest and Posey seem more restrained than the usual, but then it’s tough to surpass the heights that Guest had achieved with his character St. Clair in “Waiting for Guffman.”

Speaking of expectations. Is it fair to expect from Guest, or any filmmaker for that matter, to be brilliant with each and every feature Guest has set an impossibly high bar for himself.
Guest has been charged by some detractors of making one-joke films, of taking one idea and stretching it to the limits of a 90-minute feature. But I think it’s unfair. His work may be a one-premise, but certainly not one-joke film. For one thing, sharp writing account for poignant characterizations that are not entirely stereotypical. For another, the freewheeling tone is consistent throughout the film.

In Toronto, where the movie world-premiered, some critics felt that “For Your Consideration” is not up to the comedic genius of “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show” (my personal favorite). But I think that Guest, Levy and their creative ensemble still show the ability and energy to keep moving on with new ideas. With very few exceptions, their new effort is still at least two notches above most of Hollywood’s youth-oriented, crass comedies.

End Note

What if by sheer luck and other factors, “For Your Consideration” itself would generate awards buzz when it opens theatrically in November If I were an Academy member, I would vote for them

Too bad, but the Academy has never taken seriously the comedy genre. It would be nice to recognize Guest and Levy as writers and Catherine O’Hara as an actress, or perhaps honor Guest and company with a Career Achievement Award for their impressive body of work.