It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

for your consideration

I caught Christopher Guest's latest ensemble piece, For Your Consideration, last night. The good news is that it's pretty funny in parts, and Guest's usual cast does their best. But the bad news is that it's really Guest's weakest movie. Everything looks like it's in place to really come together right, but for whatever reason, the film doesn't. However, as tylerpistol so eloquently put it in the comments, even a weak Christopher Guest film is totally worth seeing.

Christopher Guest has a very good comedic formula going for him: assemble together a bunch of actors who are good at improv and let them loose with their characters into a little setting he has created for them. Sometimes he crafts a very good story around the setting -- A Mighty Wind being the strongest example of all. The story for Consideration, though, doesn't quite measure up. Inexplicably, it feels the need to borrow from Guest's previous movies.

It's a story about the production of what looks to be a generic, soon-to-be-forgotten Hollywood tearjerker: Home for Purim, the story of a southern family in World War II, complete with dying mother, prodigal daughter returning home with her lesbian lover, younger brother never seen out of his Naval uniform ("If Tojo wants a fight, I'll give it to him!") and a well-meaning but ineffectual patriarch. Oh, and the family's Jewish and they're all concerned that the prodigal daughter come home so they can celebrate Purim all together, twirl their noisemakers to drown out the mention of Haman's name, and generate all kinds of family tension before Mama finally croaks of Dying Mother Disease. It's the kind of movie that Ed Begley Jr's character in A Mighty Wind (the tall Swede given to speaking Yiddish phrases for no reason) would have loved -- though when the joke of seeing obstensibly WASP-y looking people saying schpilkis and meshugge and oy gevalt with Southern accents fades, so does the novelty.

So we've got one element from A Mighty Wind in place: The misplaced Yiddish. Then we get the news that some little tiny post on someone's obscure movie blog makes a hint that one of the actors on-set might be doing something here worthy of an Oscar nomination. Then other reports come in that some of the other actors may be given an Oscar nod as well "come awards time", and suddenly all eyes are on this production and its former has-been stars. How will this pressure affect them? Is this finally their turn to shine in the big time? Didn't we see this story angle before in Waiting For Guffman? We did, sort of.

Suddenly the production is no longer about the film, it's about the chances of Oscars. You can tell this is the point of Consideration, the dangers of buzz and the mania surrounding "awards time" that apparently turns everyone in Hollywood into a bunch of raving tunaheads when, before, they were merely just a bunch of non-raving tunaheads. Ricky Gervais shows up as the studio head and, in his best Ricky Gervais way, decides to suggest that the film be "made less Jewish" to "appeal to more people, cos then the movie will be great, and people will want to see it."

After production wraps, the film heads to release as "Home For Thanksgiving." End Act 1.

In Act 2, we see the film's favored actors preparing for their eventual brushes with Oscar stardom. Catherine O'Hara's aging actress, for instance (saddled with the unfortunate surname "Hack") spends the entire first half of the film looking frumpy for her dying mom role. Once she's doing pre-Oscar nom publicity, she desperately tarts herself up. Harry Shearer's prestigious actor (and Purim patriarch) feels relieved that he won't have to do commercials anymore, though when he appears on a local TV morning show (complete with ventriloquist weathergirl) they all want to talk about his hot dog mascot days. Posey Parker's actress "isn't acting for the statue" yet is also rumored to be on the shortlist for nomination, and suffers the indignity of sitting through a morning radio show ("Morning Wood") and has to break the bad news to the obnoxious hosts that no, she doesn't go topless in this movie and no, there's no nude scenes.

Christopher Guest has never been kind to his characters -- nobody gets away with a totally happy ending, especially in his films' "Six Months Later" codas. Let's remember that each Guest film has a few constant elements: the satirical character archetypes, the one party scene where all the characters are thrown together, thus giving some characters who wouldn't have had any other reason to be together a chance to interact, and before the "Six Months Later" coda comes the big payoff, a great big set piece at the end. There's the "Red, White and Blaine" review in Waiting for Guffman, the dog show finals in Best In Show, and the tribute concert in A Mighty Wind.

For Your Consideration gets no payoff, however. It gets no big set piece. The film's climax comes with the reading of the Oscar nominations, which of course happen at 5:00 AM on the West Coast. Them's excitin' time in La-La Land! Suffice to say not everybody will get a nod, and Guest's treatment of anybody who doesn't get a nomination ("It was an honor just to be almost nominated") goes beyond being unkind and veers almost straight into abuse.

Those who lose out don't deserve their fall; up until then they've been portrayed as sympathetically as one can be in a satirical comedy. It wasn't their own ego or hubris that caused them to fail (which is WHY and WHEN comedy works) but instead, just The System and the buzz and "the Inter Web." That's harsh, and I think that's what caused Consideration to leave me cold. It also ends abruptly. I hate recognizing an end scene only after the credits begin to roll. But that's me.

The film's not without its strong bits, though. The thing I really like about Christopher Guest and his ensemble team is that he pairs off different people in every movie. He gives his regulars the chance to interact closely with different people each time. Fred Willard, for example, teams up with O'Hara in Guffman as local theater legends in their own minds, then he sits next to The Guy With The English Accent (whose name I can't remember, but we all know him as The Guy In The Christopher Guest Movies With The English Accent) to provide commentary for the dog show in Best In Show, and then he's let loose on his own in A Mighty Wind and nearly steals the show. Here in Consideration, he and Jane Lynch play overly exuberant hosts of one of those fluffy Hollywood newsmagazine shows.

Willard and Lynch are hilarious, as are each and every single film-within-a-film or show-within-a-film segment we see. Each satirical piece is done just as cleverly yet as subtle as, say, the songs and album covers in A Mighty Wind. If you get the joke (the way Lynch strikes poses like Mary Hart, the Puritan period piece that looks overly anachronistic, the overly-dramatic dialogue in Home for Purim) then you enjoy it. Otherwise you get the chance to laugh at the people with the funny hair, and believe me, there's a lot of funny hair in this movie. I'm presuming the Hollywood filmmaking types will recognize and laugh a bit more at the more subtle in-jokes than Fred Willard's strange spiky hairdo.

Catherine O'Hara is left to fend for herself this time around, and her aging actress (best known for her portrayal, years before, of a blind prostitute in some big drama) desperately clings to the hope that this sentimental schmaltzy role will finally mean some recognition for her.

Harry Shearer, too, spends most of the film in his own little orbit, though Eugene Levy pairs off fine with him as his clueless agent ("I know you don't want to read for the commercial," Levy says at one point, which I now paraphrase. "You've got enough experience and talent to get the part without reading for it. I know that, you know that, I told them that. He doesn't need to read for the part! But maybe if you read for the commercial, you'll show them that you don't need to read for it.")

Parker Posey does well, gets a great monologue at the end that echoes her audition piece in Waiting For Guffman, and Jennifer Coolidge just runs amok as a human pinball, bouncing off everyone she encounters and getting some great nearly non-sequitur lines in as the film's producer. The scene where she and her assistant go over some ad treatments for Home For Purim is just brilliant.

There's the other usual suspects milling about, too: Bob Balaban (the nervous balding guy) teams with Michael McKean as the film's screenwriters, Michael Hitchcock (Parker Posey's husband in Best In Show) as an acerbic movie reviewer, John Michael Higgins (Terry Bohner in A Mighty Wind) looking all too much like William H. Macy with a 70s 'stache in his role as publicity goon, oh and Paul Dooley and Ed Begley all show up again. John Krasinski (Jim from the US "Office") even gets a quick cameo, too. The only person I was expecting to see, but didn't, was Paul Benedict (you'll remember him most in "Guffman.") No worries tho. Guest himself plays the director of Home for Purim, but his role is almost non-existent. He has a couple of good scenes but then fades into the background when the focus turns to the actors and the Oscar buzz.

So the film has great acting and some good jokes and nice setups, but the characters aren't fully formed and the film just fails to deliver in the end. I definitely think it's the weakest Guest film out of the bunch he's got, but I do admit I laughed a lot while watching.

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