Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Christopher Guest leaves behind the mockumentary formula that worked so well for him inThis is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman
andBest in Show
in order to make a comedy about the feeding frenzy of the Hollywood awards seasons. ButFor Your Consideration
(opening November 22 at Landmarks Hillcrest and La Jolla Village Theaters) does employ many of the actors whove made those films a success.
The cast of the film-within-a-film in For Your Consideration
To critics and film industry folk, those three little wordsfor your considerationannounce the start of the madness known as The Awards Season. Its a time when Hollywood trots out bloated, pretentious and self-important films that they deem Oscar hopefuls. Its also the time when small art house films and indie features hope to break away from the pack to start to generate that all important buzz that could mean an Oscar nomination (which can translate into more box office dollars and a potentially higher salary for the nominees next project).
For Your Consideration focuses on one of those art house hopefuls, a film with the unlikely title of Home for Purim . This film-within-a-film is a period piece set in the 1940s and involving a Jewish family with an ailing matriarch whos awaiting the return of her adult offspring. The film is in the final days of shooting when Marilyn Hack (played by Catherine OHara), the actress playing the mother, gets wind of an Internet item that suggests her performance is Oscar-worthy. Well thats enough to send the films publicist into a giddy tailspin and to elicit excitement as well as veiled envy from her co-stars. It also gets the studio thinking about ways to make the film more broadly appealing so that it can cash in on any Oscar fallout. This means toning down the Jewishness of the story and making the film less denominational. Theres nothing like a whiff of success to make everyone go crazy in Tinseltown.
For Your Consideration arrives amidst great anticipation. After all it comes from the fertile imagination of Christopher Guest, a co-writer on one of the funniest films of all time, This is Spinal Tap . But with each successive film after that spectacular hit, his comedy has grown progressively less funny. Waiting for Guffman (about regional theater) and Best in Show (about dog competitions) were still highly entertaining but not quite as inspired as Spinal Tap . Then A Mighty Wind stretched a funny idea too far. Now For Your Consideration delivers a painfully dated attempt at Hollywood satire that makes you wonder if Guest and company have run out of ideas. Maybe the creative collaboration needs refreshing. On Spinal Tap , Guest was a co-writer and star. Rob Reiner directed from a script by Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer (all of whom acted in the film as well). After Spinal Tap , Guest took on the directing and changed writing partners (replacing Shearer and McKean with Eugene Levy, but keeping all three as performers). Guest and Levy havent managed to pen a script (or spur on-set improvisations) that equals Spinal Tap , and after four collaborations maybe they just need to change partners and try something new.
For Your Consideration should have been funny. Hollywood is a turf that Guest and Levy should know well, and as witty, independent minded artists they should have been able to skewer it brilliantly. Or, if they didnt want to bite the hand that feeds them, they could have delivered a clever valentine. But For Your Consideration lands in a dull limbo. It has neither the charm and affection of Francois Truffauts Day for Night nor the wicked humor of Robert Altmans The Player. It doesnt even seem like it was made by someone with insider knowledge of the film industry.
Jane Lynch and Fred Willard in For Your Consideration
The film-within-a-film, Home for Purim , doesnt seem like anything that an indie studio would make, and much less something that would stir Internet buzz about an Oscar. It would have been funnier and more accurate if the film being made were a pretentious, politically correct issue film like Crash , or an amp-ed out film school nerd project along the lines of Quentin Tarantinos Pulp Fiction . But the quaint Home For Purim , even with its subplot involving a lesbian lover, looks like a film that would have been madeand badly tooin the 1960s. The film contains such out of place gags as a publicist who doesnt know what the Internet is (Its that thing with email?) and a star whos amazed that you can print something from the Internet off your computer onto a piece of paper. Such wonder and amazement about the Internet might have been appropriate right after The Blair Witch Project, but now it just seems silly, out of place, and decidedly not funny.
Similarly, the film tries to poke fun at Purims bimbo producer who worries about spending money on things like snacks. But I think most filmmakers today would complain about producers who were bean counter businessmen who rely on focus groups and demographic data. Poking fun at this would seem more contemporary and accurate. Jennifer Coolidges producer seems more like a mark for Max Bialystock from The Producers than a comic portrait of todays film executives. Guest doesnt even seem to get the awards mania down right. The ridiculous lengths that studios will go to woe Academy voters, the paranoia over sending out awards screeners, the ads that have to strike the right balance of dignity and beggingnone of this is covered by the film.
What Guest does get right is the talk show circuit where actors prostitute themselves in order to create more buzz. The montage of talks shows spoofing Leno, Letterman, shock jocks, and Charlie Rose is one of the few genuinely funny bits in the film. And seeing OHaras no frills Marilyn Hack suddenly appear with her face lifted, her lips cologne-ed up and her ample body overflowing in a skimpy short dress is hysterical. Also scoring laughs is Fred Willard as an Entertainment Tonight host who thinks hes hip. Based on what gets laughs, Guest seems better able to satirize TV than film.
For Your Consideration (rated PG-13 for sexual reference and brief language) blows a great opportunity to let the comic talents of Guest, OHara, Eugene Levy, Micahel McKean and the ever delightful Parker Posey take aim at Hollywood. What Guest doesnt seem to realize is that he doesnt have to exaggerate much to find humor about Hollywood. He probably would have msade a better Hollywood satire if he had just documented the process of making Spinal Tap, a film that probably baffled studios when it was first pitched.
Companion viewing: The Player, This is Spinal Tap, Putney Swope, The Oscar, Day for Night, Forgotten Silver