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For Your Consideration (2006) Print E-mail
Friday, 17 November 2006
Christopher Guest has been doing (or in) mockumentaries for years, from “This is Spinal Tap” (directed by Rob Reiner), “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind” and now “For Your Consideration. With this entry, Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy have abandoned the fake documentary approach for a straight comic narrative, and almost succeed. Its main weakness is that it is somewhat diffuse overall, consisting of a series of scenes too loosely linked. Also, the characters are all caricatures, hard to accept as real people. This matters more here than in Guest’s mockumentaries, because supposedly a story is being told rather than a concept examined.

Still, it’s frequently funny, but like all of Guest’s movies, it’s very dry wit, the sort of thing that elicits grins rather than guffaws. His movies are easy to like, but only “This Is Spinal Tap” evoked cult-like devotion—and someone else directed that one.

All his films deal with show biz in one way or another—“Spinal Tap” with rock bands, “Guffman” with community theater, “Show” with dog shows, “Wind” with folk music. This time Guest and Levy turn on theier own industry—it’s a spoof about Hollywood. In that sense, it’s extremely well-observed; anyone who’s visited a movie set will recognize the characters here as authentic types. The clueless gate guard who doesn’t recognize fading star Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara)—which disappoints but doesn’t surprise her, the very gay-acting makeup artist Sandy Lane (Ed Begley, Jr.) who, nonetheless, refers to his wife; the inattentive but constantly on the phone agent Morley Orfkin (Levy himself); stalwart faded star Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), now best known in commercials as Irv the Foot-Long Hot Dog; TV director Jay Berman (Guest) making his first theatrical feature, and so on.

They’re on a smallish studio lot shooting “Home for Purim,” a heavily sentimental tale of a disunited family. Part of the joke is that they’re Jewish—but also very southern with southern accents. Their dialog is as full of Yiddishisms as possible, with words like “kvelling” and “meshugah” delivered in drawls.

Throughout “For Your Consideration,” we return again and again to “Home for Purim,” with dying mother Esher Pischer (Hack/O’Hara), the father (Miller/Shearer), the son Shmuel/Sam (Brian Chubb/Christopher Mohnihan), long-absent sister Ruth (Callie Webb/Parker Posey) and her “special friend” Mary Pat Hooligan (Rachael Harris). Hovering around the edges are co-writers Philip Koontz (Bob Balaban) and Lane Iverson (Michael McKean); this is their first movie, and they wince when director Berman peremptorily (and theatrically) tosses away the script.
People are doing their work, but from what we see, the movie is just another schmaltzy family tearjerker, this time Jewish rather than Christian. It’s nothing special—but then the British cameraman (Jim Piddock) tells Marilyn that a friend of his was surfing the net and found a website claiming that Marilyn is sure to get an Oscar nomination for her performance in “Home for Purim.”

Marilyn, who lives alone in small home decorated with cats (but without any real ones), has pretty much settled for the idea that she’s never going to regain any fame—but now, dear lord, an OSCAR? Her attitude begins changing. Aimlessly chattery publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins) runs with the idea; even the local TV film critics (Don Lake and Michael Hitchcock) begin speculating. And when, partly because of this, Oscar buzz also begins for Callie Webb and the resilient Victor Allan Miller, things change more.

Victor and Marilyn are guests on a TV show hosted by flint-hard Cindy Martin (Jane Lynch) and self-loving Chuck Porter (Fred Willard), who finds everything but himself funny. The cast turns up on other talk shows, including a rap-oriented show for kids on which Miller tries to get down with his bad self.

The movie isn’t about the characters, and it’s really only barely about the Oscar buzz—something Levy himself seems to have faced, when buzz like that centered on his “A Mighty Wind” and “American Pie” performances. Callie views herself as a rising star, and her current romance with Brian just a step up the ladder. Miller has been around the barn many times, and by now has learned to always land on his feet, flashing his gleaming porcelain smile. Marilyn has faded so much she barely perceives herself, but the Oscar buzz leads to new hair and makeup styles and what seems to be a bad facelift. (After a certain point, she can’t stop smiling.) Producer Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge), the alarmingly-dressed heiress to the Brown Baby Diaper Service, is backing the film without really knowing what a producer does, though she knows it involves a lot of phone calls.

The director is a sitcom veteran, but making his movie debut here. He’s full of advice—“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You’ll get a wet, critically injured baby.” His hair is as frizzy as Larry Fine’s, he wears very strange glasses, and the cadence of his dialogue is intriguingly similar to Jerry Lewis’. We also meet the owner (Martin Gibb) of the studio and his rather mean yes-man (Larry Miller). If anything, the movie has too many characters, resulting in fewer interesting interactions than audiences may want.

Guest and Levy poke fun at all the characters; as usual in their films, no one—absolutely no one—is immune, though perhaps Brian Chubb (Moynihan) comes closer than most. He’s an earnest young actor, and is rarely the butt of jokes. Some, like the intrepid Coolidge, are funny just standing there; some, like Shearer, are less comic here than usual in Guest-directed movies. It’s possible to even develop a kind of admiration for Victor Allan Miller, who can smile his way through remarks like “you are so distinguished—as the weiner.” Porter, who himself has an alarming hairdo, is gleefully rough on everyone, including his cohost; it’s a typical Fred Willard role—and he’s typically funny in it.   

Despite being a comedy, “For Your Consideration” is one of the most realistic movies about Hollywood today; everything and everyone in it, from the annoying but clues TV hosts to the annoying but clueless young woman in charge of filming for the movie’s press kit, to the actors, stagehands and hangers-on, are highly familiar, instantly recognizable by anyone who’s visited the sets of movies. About the only thing missing, in fact, ARE visitors to the set—people who are intently watching everything but have no part in the goings-on. (There’s a shot of two guys sunning themselves in lawn chairs in front of the sound stage which may fill this need.)

“For Your Consideration” needed more structure and fewer characters, but it holds the audience’s attention all the way to the last funny but wistful shot of Marilyn Hack (it opens with her too, but on a shot of Bette Davis in “Jezebel,” which Marilyn is watching on TV). It’s often very funny, though some jokes don’t quite work and some talented people, such as Sandra Oh and Richard Kind, get only brief scenes.

Guest and Levy don’t write scripts; they write outlines, trusting their cast’s abilities at improvisation. And they are great at it (though there are other people locally they could tap, including Howard Hesseman and Peter Bonerz), but this method doesn’t produce well-coordinated stories. With a mockumentary, you can throw away entire sections; you can’t with a movie with a story. And to a degree, that strain shows here—but the movie is indeed funny, and fans of Guest’s earlier outings shouldn’t miss this one.

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