Monday, December 11, 2006
Here's One for the "Worst Of the Year" Lists. Christopher Guest's "For Your Consideration" is Considered Herein
I saw "For Your Consideration" over the weekend. Sadly, not at all good. Terrible, in fact. I've enjoyed the Christopher Guest-directed movies less and less since "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show". Though "A Mighty Wind" wasn't at all directed at my demographic -- folk music was well before my time -- I didn't think it was particularly funny either. In that film, Guest seemed content to nudge a laugh out of a scene if he could replace it with a bit of sentiment instead. In my mind it flat out didn't work. "For Your Consideration", Guest and Co.'s latest, works even less well.
Unlike Guest's other films, "For Your Consideration" eschews the "mockumentary" format he made famous with "Spinal Tap" and "Guffman", and goes for a more traditional storytelling approach. This works just fine: I found that I didn't really miss the self-aware glances to the camera or the outside-of-the-action interviews. Changing format is not this movie's problem. The movie's set in Hollywood, and concerns the cast and crew of an absolutely awful awful movie called "Home for Purim" that, inexplicably, starts to get a little Oscar buzz for three of its four lead actors. "Purim", the film inside the film, is set just as World War II is ending, and tells the story of how a traditional midwestern Jewish family comes to grips with their servicewoman-daughter's homosexuality when she comes homes from the war. This would be a send up of what sort of film exactly? Guest has the chance here to skewer any number of contemporary film genres or Hollywood trends that are positively crying out for a completely mean-spirited parodic treatment, but instead he decides to leave them all alone and mine what little humor's still left in Yiddish words comically injected into conversation. Not too much, we find. The scenes Guest includes of "Home for Purim" (which is eventually changed to "Thanksgiving" by the studio to make the film more palatable for Gentile moviegoers) are execrable. Badly-written, badly-acted, with a premise that would thwart even the most talented screenwriter's earnest efforts. Ostensibly, Guest intends for these terrible scenes to be unintentionally funny, and thus revealing that much of the "Oscar buzz" phenomenon has very little to do with the quality of the films and a lot to do with irrational exuberance on the part of the media, but the unintentional badness that has been for so long a staple of the Guest oeuvre, just dies here. Watching a lot of people working on an awful film is depressing enough, but that the film within the film has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever makes those scenes doubly punishing. At least in "Guffman", which was about the staging of an awful small-town play, the play itself was so earnestly put-on, and enjoyably campy, that we didn't mind watching it even if it was essentially just a bad play. The same device fails miserably here.
[Ed. note: SPOILERS AHEAD.]
So Guests satirizes the entertainment media, and then satirizes the credulous actors who believe the hype. There are three "Purim"/"Thanksgiving" actors who've got Oscar buzz: 1.) Catherine O'Hara's character, the kindly and pitiable Marilyn Hack, who disfigures herself with Botox and collagen injections to make herself look more like an A-list Hollywood actress, 2.) Victor Allen Miller (Harry Shearer), a struggling actor best known for his hot dog commercials, who starts dressing in sportcoats over t-shirts and making appearances on TRL (which, incidentally, provides the film's least funny and most embarrassing moment -- Harry Shearer dancing. Wow. I seriously had to look away. More awkward even than David Brent or Elaine Benis's tragic dance performances, except this one, I suspect, was probably pretty real.), and 3.) Callie Webb (Parker Posie), who upon news of her upcoming Oscar nominatuion, promptly dumps her boyfriend who no longer "understands" her. The big Oscar nom morning arrives: none of the three actors get one. Here's the film's big punchline.
The last few minutes consist of Fred Willard (who approximates an entertainment "reporter" in the Pat O'Brien mold), accosting the three actors, "Cheaters"-style, cruelly asking them questions designed to make them relive their failure to make the cut. There isn't a damn thing funny about it, and I doubt even that Guest wants the audience to laugh during this section. Guest's rage comes to the fore in this section most clearly; this angry, humorless denouement suggests a personal stake of some kind, as if someone close to him had endured something similar and he wants the world to share his anger at the vacuousness and maliciousness of the whole stupid process. The film ends with an incoherent O'Hara shuffling down her driveway to throw out what's left of some food she's been binging on since 5 that morning, disheveled and all over the place emotionally, hardly able to converse with Willard's character she's so distraught. Even Willard's character doesn't seem to find any amusement in her downfall. He steps out of frame and the film ends. Funny, huh?
Anyway, this thing was a real disappointment. I hope Guests raises his game for the next one, or, even better, gives it up for a few years, and takes a few acting gigs for a while. Anyone remember the Six-Fingered Man from "The Princess Bride"? Or the cold pathologist in "A Few Good Men"? He's a pretty good character actor in his own right; I'd like to see the guy do some more movies instead of grinding out another uninspired improv comedy every couple years.