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Hollywood send-up. No-name actors are making a low-budget period drama called "Home for Purim," when an anonymous post on the Internet suggests that one performance is Oscar-worthy. Then, two more cast members get Oscar-related press: buzz in "Variety" and appearances on TV prompt the studio executives to insist on changes in the script in anticipation of a blockbuster. Jump ahead a few months to the days before Oscar nominees are announced: just the possibility of a nomination has changed the actors' lives. Agents, publicists, make-up artists, local celebrity reporters, and other bit players round out the backstage ensemble. Hooray for Hollywood! Written by
There is something both enchanting and disorienting about watching a Christopher Guest film that features conventional camera angles and a narrative structure. It is a brave, and ultimately, a rewarding choice for a director who has built his impeccable reputation on the strength of his mockumentaries.
Like its predecessors Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration is largely improvised, and reunites the same winning cast. Gone, however, are several of the conventions of Guest's previous films. For Your Consideration avoids the need to give every last character an extended 'interview' segment and instead weaves minor characters naturally into the fabric of the story. The narrative structure also prevents Guest from relying too heavily on cuts to b-roll sight gags that, while funny, are never more than gags. By challenging himself to tell this story in the absence of these and other mockumentary techniques, Guest is allowed to focus instead on scenes that show how his characters really respond to one another in the moment.
Half the fun of course is waiting for all the familiar faces to show up, and discovering what crazy character they have inhabited this time around. All the usual suspects are back in For Your Consideration, playing a colourful array of Hollywood types. Insecurities, foibles - and just a few quirks - are in full display.
Jennifer Coolidge is a brilliantly clueless producer, and Eugene Levy has a nice turn as a somewhat smarmy agent who has no faith whatsoever in his client (Harry Shearer's Victor Ann Miller). Guest himself is hilarious playing director Jay Berman, and one only wishes that we got to see more of his rehearsals with the actors, as these are some of the funniest scenes in the film. Mike McKean and Bob Balaban are a fun team as the cowriters of Home for Purim, the movie-within-the-movie. Making his first appearance in a Guest film, Ricky Gervais grabs perhaps the biggest laugh of all with a line that I won't spoil here. And while Fred Willard and Jane Lynch are dealt very broad characters, their send-up of Access Hollywood is laugh-out-loud funny, and provides the perfect vehicle for Willard's boorish shtick.
John Michael Higgins is in amazing form as Corey Taft, sporting surreal philosophies on actors and life that outdo even his colour-worshipping character from A Mighty Wind. And the doe-eyed and endlessly endearing Christopher Moynihan tosses off several absolute gems in response to the inanity going on around him. Much like his character in the film, he's likely to go unnoticed in favour of some flashier performances, but deserves accolades of his own. He and Parker Posey have a sweet, unrehearsed chemistry playing actors in puppy love.
While it is impossible to give due screen time to all of the troupe's mainstays, some deserved better. Jim Piddock is dealt a potentially juicier part than he's had in the past, as the irritable AD who is all too aware that he's surrounded by idiots. But his screen time is far too short to let it amount to much, and fans wanting to see him play against type are better advised to check out his brilliant performance in See This Movie. Meanwhile, Ed Begley Jr. is hideously miscast as the film's token flamboyant gay man. Furthermore, having such recognizable actors as Claire Forlani and particularly Sandra Oh show up for bit parts in For Your Consideration is more distracting than anything, and breaks the illusion of the self-contained world that worked so nicely in Guest's previous efforts.
Despite all of the comedic talent on display however, this is Catherine O'Hara's show, and she more than delivers in her role as fading screen star Marilyn Hack. Her insecurities, dreams, and vulnerabilities are handled with such poignancy and humour that O'Hara fully deserves whatever accolades may come her way in the months to come. She is luminous.
If For Your Consideration comes up a little short, it is in the story department. The outline devised by Guest and Levy suffers somewhat from a lack of focus. If, as Guest insists, this film is not intended as a satire of Hollywood but is rather the tragicomic tale of what happens to someone when they are told that they deserve an award, we should be spending less time on all the Hollywood in-jokes and parodies, and more time with the characters themselves.
We don't learn quite enough about our main characters those portrayed by Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, and Parker Posey to really understand how monumental it is for them to be caught up in the Oscar hype. We see that, professionally, they desperately need the break. But we get no perspective on how this effects their personal lives, or changes the way that they relate to the people closest to them. Where are their families? Their friends? They don't seem to have any. And if that was the point in and of itself, it wasn't brought across clearly enough.
Whatever the film's shortcomings, it is the smaller details that are purely Guest which make this film a triumph and future classic: Guest's perfect intonation as he instructs one actor to deliver his line as though "Mommy is going now?", Jennifer Coolidge jumping in at the absolute perfect moment with "But what about me!?" in the midst of a heated argument that has nothing to do with her, or the sight of Harry Shearer suddenly wearing Rachael Harris' hat to help him get into character. These are the small moments that give Guest's works the rare distinction of being films that get progressively funnier with each viewing.
My hope for the next Guest film is that it continues to stretch the troupe in the way that these last two films have done. Ideally, we'll see an improvised, narrative comedy with some heart, all the expected hilarity and a little more plot structure. Until then, here it is, for your consideration
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