Tuesday, September 12, 2006


(Gala Presentation)
USA, 82 minutes, 2006
Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy
Directed by Christopher Guest
Cast: Christopher Guest, Catherine O’Hara, John Michael Higgins, Fred Ward, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, Don Lake, Eugene Levy, Christopher Moynihan, Jane Lynch,
Harry Shearer, Rick Gervais

A new film from Christopher Guest is always cause for celebration to the comedy buff who’s slid into the cold shivers while craving an “adult sized dose” (thank you, Levon Helm) of irony and old-school comic chemistry. Hell, the stuff he leaves on the cutting room floor is probably funnier than most of the pointless, run-on agony on the weekly sketch shows that overstays its welcome like a tipsy aunt trying to enunciate a “blonde joke”. With the teeth and claws of the once great SNL worn down to feeble nubs, and the National Lampoon label…well, just that…mainstream social satire has found a new voice in cheap-ass gonzo animation, with “The Simpsons” (admit it, it still scores more often than not), “South Park” (more fearless than ever) and the “Adult Swim” oddities (Dada? Or just demented?) showing no signs of softening on new subjects for merciless assassination. Thank goodness there remains some real flesh-and- blood types who can match wits with anything spawned from a Flash menu.

Taking stylistic cues from Rob Reiner’s immortal “This Is Spinal Tap”, in which he costarred and “cowrote” (such as the groundbreaking improv-experiment was conceived), Guest first targeted small-town theatre (“Waiting For Guffman”), expanded his scale to The Westminster Dog Show (“Best In Show”), and last fashioned a more formal “dramedy” with “A Mighty Wind”, set at a folk music festival. Each offered some rarely visited terrain that was mined for delirious comic gold from loose outlines given the King Midas touch by his cast of reliable pros and promising newcomers. “For Your Consideration” turns its merry pranksters loose on Hollywood, a comparatively familiar target that will definitely satisfy devotees and possibly win some new fans from amongst those who have found the (somewhat baffling) art-house cred of Guest’s previous films off-putting. “Comedy is hard”, goes the old theatrical adage, but damn these folks make it look easy…

When we first meet middle-aged actress Marilyn Hack (O’Hara) she isn’t recognized at the studio gates, even though she’s a 30-year veteran in “the biz” and is arriving for her set call on the “prestige” drama “Home For Purim”. Marilyn headlines the 1940s-set Southern melodrama--which seems destined for heavy rotation on the Hallmark Hall Of Fame--as a dying matriarch opposite fellow thespian fossil Victor Allen Miller (Shearer), for whom the role is an escape from his usual gig as Irv The Footlong Weiner in a long-running TV commercial spot. During downtime, the film’s DOP casually mentions to Marilyn that an entertainment website has cited her for an Academy Award. Of course, this alters Marylin’s resignation immediately, and while she tries to maintain an indifferent facade, it’s a fever that catches when Callie (Parker), the actress playing Marilyn’s daughter, and her husband/co-star Brian (Moynihan) are pegged for possible Oscar noms as well.

Suddenly, everyone on the lot is interested in this low-budget weepy, to the surprise of its questionably talented director (Guest, under a bizarre Krusty The Clown ‘do) and precious, enviably insulated screenwriters (Balaban and McKean)—although their situation will change in a heartbeat. The studio exec Martin Gibb (Gervais, all familiar David Brent twitches) and his spineless assistant (Miller) show up with “notes” as to how to make “Purim” more accessible by lessening the Jewish angle (wouldn’t “Home For Thanksgiving” be a better title?). Victor's inept, small-time agent (Levy) suddenly takes interest in him, and the walking ulcer of a publicist (Higgins) gets a wake-up call to way things are done in the 21st century.

Beyond the backlot, this once under-the-radar property becomes the talk of the town and the trades. A pair of snooty movie critics (Lake, Hitchcock) debate the worthiness of its cast on their syndicated show, and of course, it reaches the country’s most popular entertainment newsmagazine, where the impeccably-poised automatons who host it (Willard, Lynch) are only too willing to pay lip service to whatever current darlings have been annointed worthy of being dressed up and—of course--torn down in a public pole-dance of preening, self-righteous schadenfreude.

Guest once again assembles his rep company who, to steal a line from Springsteen, crackle like crossed wires: returning are Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Jane Lynch, Harry Shearer, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, and Guest himself—plus a few new faces. Like “A Mighty Wind”, this one relies much less on the faux-documentary style and instead plays as a more straightforward (but still improvised) showbiz lampoon owing its focus on backlot politics (and chatty, huge cast) to Robert Altman’s “The Player”--minus the venom. Fans of this subject will also smack their lips at the odd flavour shot from Herbert Ross’ “Sweet Liberty”, David Mamet’s “State And Main”, “The Big Picture” (an early scripted Guest film), and the like.

O'Hara delivers the closest thing to a nuanced, three-dimensional performance here, rendered even more unflinchingly raw when her needy, conflicted Marilyn surrenders to the plastic demands of mainstream that’s long evaded her and enters the second act botoxed and boob-jobbed like she’s fallen under the blade of Bruce Campbell’s mad surgeon in “Escape From LA”—she becomes her own walking, talking Mort Drucker caricature.

Shearer’s invigorated has-been undergoes a less radical transformation, showing off his new tooth caps on “Total Request Live” and getting the film’s best line: “The Oscar is the backbone of an industry that has no backbone.”

Few will disagree that “FYC”s highlight is the pitch-perfect parody "Entertainment Now," co-hosted by Jane Lynch and Fred Willard with dizzying aplomb. Willard, to no one’s surprise, steals the show with his hilarious—and sometimes astonishing cruel--non-sequitors, each perfectly punctuated with another glimpse of his “faux-hawk”, which gives him the look of a peroxided and leathery-tanned flying monkey from “The Wizard Of Oz”.

The other subplots are spottier, indeed, some of them seem to be devised to incorporate the returning vets at any cost: the “Ebert And Roeper” riff affords only a few minutes of screen time to Don Lake and Michael Hitchcock, and Jennifer Coolidge’s cameo as “Purim”s financier (a hefty diaper-company heiress who prefers not to be photographed from the back) is amusing (like so many of her costars, just anticipating her next line is enough to inspire chuckles) but completely perfunctory. The scope and pace here is closer to that of “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”—now you see them, now you don’t.

For me, consumate “Oh, that guy” John Michael Higgins walks away with the film as publicist Corey Taft. His Lee Horsley grooming and “Boogie Nights”-era fashions better preserved than Ötzi the Iceman, Taft madly scribbles in his file-o-fax as if every pen stroke will keep the thaw at bay, and when caught in one of his many inane analogies, drags out his partial Native American heritage (specifically, “Chucktaw”) with a cluck with authority that will hopefully avert his obvious fractured thinking. Hopelessly analog in a digital world--he’s positively enchanted at the discovery of “The World Wide Interweb”, as if bestowing some arcane sweat lodge knowledge upon his disciples.

Guest and his cast are keen, astute observers of humanity, who, if they can be accused of sometimes pushing a joke too far, do so only in the interest of adding another dimension to their characters, and not, as some have accused, of mocking those of another (read: non-L.A.) class. If there’s anything to be taken from “For Your Consideration” other than laughter (which really, is more than enough here), it’s the pointed undercurrent that can be found in all of Guest’s efforts. The surrogate family that forms from the desire to be recognized, to leave a legacy, to be simply loved and yet somehow validated—it’s the important element that gets too easily disregarded by “ET” and tabloid junkies who blithely dismiss anyone who’s pursued a career in the arts (and god forbid they achieve success) as lucky, lazy, and a fraud.

The cut-to-the-chase-already question is: is “For Your Consideration” worthy of the esteem heaped on “Waiting For Guffman”, “Best In Show”, and (let’s face it, nothing will ever compare to “This Is Spinal Tap”)“A Mighty Wind”? Well, who cares?--it’s still funnier than 99% of other things around. “One note”, dissenters will mutter—but it’s a sublime one, beautifully sustained…

Robert J. Lewis
TIFF 2006