Christopher Guest’s latest laugher forgoes the faux-documentary format of earlier works, settling instead on a straight-ahead narrative style. It’s a small and not-that-significant difference. Because For Your Consideration sits snugly beside Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, sharing the same improv-happy cast and basic concept: yes, it’s time once again for a group of loveable losers to have their dreams and delusions bittersweetly skewered. What’s more, in targeting the movie biz – the subject of his directorial bow The Big Picture (1989) – isn’t Guest simply (muck)raking over old ground?
Yes. But don’t fret. Familiarity breeds contentment in a comedy that may not break the mould, but still fills it to the brim with a rib-bothering assemblage of asides, observations, in-jokes... plus some of the funniest fashion and personal-grooming errors you’ll see this year. The gang’s love of the dressing-up box is unreined from the get-go, as we step onto the set of Home For Purim, an under-budget, overripe frock opera about a brood of Southern Jews gathering round for their ailing matriarch’s favourite holiday. The lady in question is played by Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), a three-decade veteran of the Hollywood fringes who hears there’s a rumour on the net that her performance could be Oscar-worthy...
Soon enough, everyone’s believing the hype: performers, producers, pundits. As the buzz gets bigger, so do the giggles – most mirthful is the movie’s midsection, where Marilyn and her similarly tipped co-stars (hotdog-ad has-been Harry Shearer, panned stand-up Parker Posey) start whoring themselves on the talk-show circuit. Hard to say which is the sorriest, silliest, most dignity-stripped spectacle here... nominations include O’Hara’s Halloween-mask Botox job; Shearer flashing new whiter-than-white chompers while trying to be down with the kids on yoof telly; and the grinning idiocy of Hollywood Now co-host Fred Willard, flaunting a blond, Beckham-esque ‘fauxhawk’ that all but steals the show.
Guest plays up his characters’ vanities and insecurities without mercy, but he’s not mean-spirited. His beef is with the hype machine rather than the desperate D-listers who get caught up in its cogs. O’Hara may end up looking like a monster, but there’s an empathy-wringing humanity behind her frozen smile. Trouble is, Guest’s a generous writer/director but a ruthless editor, whittling 50-odd hours of footage down to 86 lean minutes. Not a problem in terms of pace, but in the rush to accommodate everyone – from soulless suit Ricky Gervais to pinhead producer Jennifer Coolidge – he runs the risk of reducing the cast to a parade of bit-parters. As the folks in Purim might put it, the film’s just too dang short.
Still, isn’t it nice to be able to say that? Especially at a time of year when self-important prestige pictures are hawking their bloated wares. Spry and wry, For Your Consideration’s a highly entertaining antidote to all the hoopla. Perhaps it’s too playful to rock the establishment; yet when Shearer cracks, “Oscar is the backbone of this industry, an industry not known for its backbone,” you can definitely see blood on those blinding teeth.