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Guest stumbles in For Your Consideration

by Glen Baity

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d have to spend roughly 800 words panning a Christopher Guest movie.

If you’ve seen any of his work as a writer or director – This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind – you might understand why: the man obviously has a comic gift that, over the past 20 years, has made him virtually peerless among living satirists.

It follows that if there’s such a thing as a ‘sure bet’ in this holiday movie season, it should’ve been For Your Consideration, in which Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy, after skewering subjects from folk music to dog show stage moms, take on a much more familiar strain of show-business: the low-budget independent film.

For Your Consideration examines the effects of Oscar buzz on the set of Home for Purim, a melodrama about a Jewish family with a terminally ill matriarch that looks like an impression of an impression of a Eugene O’Neill play.

Somewhere in the vast nothingness of the internet, a random visitor to the set begins describing the film’s performances as “Oscar-worthy.” Egos run wild as morning show interview requests trickle in, and the has-been Purim stars are tantalized by the prospect of never having to appear in another hot dog commercial.

The film is populated by Guest’s usual suspects: Michael McKean and Bob Balaban, playing the screenwriters; Jennifer Coolidge, ditzing it up wonderfully as the film producer; Guest himself as Purim’s director; Fred Willard and Jane Lynch, hosts of an “Entertainment Tonight”-style fluff fest; Parker Posey, Harry Shearer and Catherine O’Hara as the vacant actors; and numerous others. There are a few additions this time around, most notably the great Ricky Gervais, of the BBC’s “The Office.”

The film, once again, has no scripted lines – Guest and Levy merely set the framework, and the actors do the rest. For Your Consideration’s concept is only a stone’s throw from Waiting for Guffman – Oscar buzz for one, Broadway buzz for the other – but the satire is utterly toothless by comparison. The world of independent film, while often brilliant, is just as often bursting with pretension. The latter quality makes it ripe for a good beating, but Guest, oddly enough, doesn’t go anywhere near the jugular on this one. He culls his biggest laughs, traditionally, from people whose self-deception borders on the pathological, but the cast and crew of Home for Purim, like the musicians in A Mighty Wind, come off as mostly sweet, slightly naïve and a little sad.

That’s not a bad thing, of course. A Mighty Wind was a much gentler picture than the Guest films that preceded it, and the beating heart at its center was a genuine, pleasant surprise. It was a tone appropriate to its subject matter.

Guest unwisely keeps the kid gloves on in his latest, and what results is 80 minutes of boring improv comedy. There are some clever points, like Home for Purim’s sudden transformation into Home for Thanksgiving, after Gervais’ character requests the filmmakers “tone down the Jewishness.” Many of the best lines go to Fred Willard (“Good evening, America, and anyone else who can understand the King’s English!”), and it’s not that I didn’t chuckle several times. I’ve just come to expect much, much more from this team.

One of the film’s biggest problems, when it comes right down to it, is Home for Purim itself. As bizarre as it seems, the rock band in Spinal Tap looked and behaved very much like several rock bands in the 1970s. Accordingly, the dog show in Best in Show seemed like the evil twin of the Westminster Dog Show, and the play in Waiting for Guffman, God help it, even resembled a sesquicentennial production in a small Midwestern town (one has to imagine).

But the film within For Your Consideration doesn’t look like any independent movie that would ever make it to the production stage, and it’s here that Guest fires wide of his target. There are plenty of mockable conventions common to modern indie pictures, and Home for Purim has almost none of them. It is therefore unclear what, exactly, he’s satirizing. People who value awards over art? People who don’t know what the internet is? People who act in hot dog commercials? I’m sure there’s an overabundance of at least two of those three character types in the film industry, but the rest of the world will inevitably be left out of the joke.

Lacking that focus, For Your Consideration veers sharply and uncomfortably into slapstick territory, where a bunch of wacky people go inexplicably ga-ga over this transparently dreadful film. I spent the duration of the movie waiting for a better punchline, but it never showed up. For Your Consideration finds Guest’s actors, once again, in fine form, which suggests they’re just as capable as they always were. Guest almost certainly has another Best in Show in him, but he’ll have to venture off the backlot to find it.

Do you hate Glen Baity and his ass face? Tell him why when you send your e-mails to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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