With his films Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, director Christopher Guest took the mockumentary approach he used in This Is Spinal Tap and brought it to a whole new generation. Guest assembled a cast of remarkable talent in Guffman, including Michael McKean (with whom Guest has worked for some 40 years), Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban and Parker Posey, and worked with the same cast (adding some new talent along the way, including the spectacularly funny Jennifer Coolidge and perfectly deadpan Jane Lynch, building an almost unbeatable ensemble of comedy.
Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind all took the mockumentary approach, dealing, respectively, with a play in a small town, an eclectic group of characters taking part in a national dog show, and the reunion of 1960s folk singers for a concert. Guest's previous three films with this ensemble worked, not just because of their mockumentary style, but because of the brilliance and energy of the cast, who worked improvisationally, with very little script. With his latest effort, For Your Consideration, Guest and co-writer Levy break away from the mockumentary mold to take a narrative approach, while still retaining the improvisational freedom that give the cast the room to make their characters their own.
In For Your Consideration, we meet the cast and director of a small and cheesy film called Home for Purim. Catherine O'Hara stars as Marilyn Hack, a once-much-more-famous actress struggling to resuscitate her career. Her costar, Victor Allen Miller, played by Harry Shearer, is in the same position. Once well-regarded in Hollywood, he has now been reduced to starring as a talking weenie in commercials, and seeks desperately to regain a measure of dignity. Parker Posey stars as Kelly Webb, the actress who plays Hack's daughter in Purim. When Hack gets word from one of the tech guys on the set that he saw a rumor on an internet film site that her performance in Purim might be worthy of an Oscar nomination, buzz around the film builds from a low drone to a positive frenzy, and all the players want desperately to be nominated, although they all deny caring -- "Big deal, right?" as Hack says with an unconvincingly casual laugh when anyone mentions it.
Willard and Lynch have a positively brilliant turn as hosts of an entertainment television show that clearly mocks entertainment television personalities. From Willard's godawful faux-hawk hairdo to Lynch's spot on posing and fierce looks at the camera, these two are the highlight of the film and get many of the laughs.
Although For Your Consideration works okay overall, and parts of it are very funny, it somehow lacks the spark that elevated Guest's earlier films from mere comedy to comedic brilliance, and I'm not quite sure why. Posey is a bit more restrained than she has been in other Guest films (I particularly loved her in both Guffman and Best in Show), and perhaps that is part of it. It's not that she's bad in this film -- she just doesn't seem to have that frenetic energy and zaniness that audiences have come to love and expect of her. O'Hara and Shearer are both quite good in their roles. O'Hara, in particular, does some very funny work later in the film when she tries to make herself look younger, face frozen by Botox, as she's being courted by talk shows to chat about her Oscar chances, but the joke is carried on a bit too long. Coolidge, as the film's wealthy but clueless producer, turns in her usual strong performance, but I'm ready to see her spread her wings beyond the vacuously clueless rich woman bit. Even Guest seems a bit more restrained than usual in his role. To be perfectly fair, though, for me, Corky St. Clair, Guest's role in Guffman, is one of the best characters he's ever created, and I can't help but compare anything else he does to the sheer genius that was Corky.
After Guffman, Guest reportedly said he wouldn't make another Guffman-type film, but with both Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, he did it again while reinventing his model. With For Your Consideration, Guest tries to break the mold and do something different. He succeeds in making a funny film, but doesn't quite reach the levels of comedic genius present in his earlier films. That's the tough thing about making movies; once you do something brilliant, your fans expect that brilliance every single time, and the pressure to keep performing to that level must be enormous. I hope that Guest and Levy will give us another film, and another after that, so long as they and their tremendously creative ensemble still have that energy to keep pulling it together. While I wouldn't rank For Your Consideration above Guest's other films, it nonetheless is a very funny piece of work, and still manages to rise head and shoulders above much of the comedy coming out of Hollywood. Let's hope Guest and Levy keep those ideas flowing.