Tuesday, January 2, 2007

He's teaching me to change my instincts, or at least ignore them

After the Audra concert, the boyfriend and I watched For Your Consideration, the new movie from Christopher Guest and Co. This was a screener's copy of the movie, which enhanced the experience a bit, since it came in a case labeled "For your consideration: For Your Consideration." But aside from that felicitous absurdity, the film was a disappointment. I was afraid this might be the case, since the last 3 Guest films followed a steady downward trend - Waiting for Guffman is the most effective overall, and also the funniest, for my money; Best in Show has plenty of hilarious moments, but lacks Guffman's focus and coherence; A Mighty Wind was so intent on being "true" that it nearly forgot to be funny (except in the case of the non-improvised musical numbers), and as a result it's the only one I haven't bothered to revisit. (I'm leaving out This is Spinal Tap, to keep things simple, since its pedigree is slightly different.) As I feared, For Your Consideration is weaker than its forerunners in nearly every way: its cast is large and very talented, which ought to be a boon, but turns out to be a handicap. The movie keeps so busy introducing its huge cast of characters that it hardly has time to let any of them develop. The one actor who has room to play is the always incredible Catherine O'Hara, and her prominence here is the film's only saving grace. But there were very few scenes where I saw evidence of the freewheeling improvisation that makes Guest's other movies so gratifying; FYC tends to get out of scenes as soon as plot points have been established, and well before its actors have any opportunity to surprise each other, or us.

The other big problem is that FYC's satire isn't focused tightly enough on any one target. Like most of Guest's films, it starts out telling the story of a small group of delusional yet endearing misfits. But instead of focusing on them and their shared project (a sappy film called Home for Purim), allowing them to create and inhabit their own, self-contained, quirky world, it tries to expand its scope to include all of Hollywood, taking shots at feckless agents and publicists, clueless producers, careless executives, powerless screenwriters, brainless entertainment reporters and so on. And to accomplish this, it floats the implausible idea that Home for Purim could be an Oscar contender. Guest wants us to laugh at how bad Purim is, and cheats a little so we'll get the full impact, by showing us scenes being shot but dropping in a soundtrack behind them. And the details of the "movie" are definitely funny: I loved Harry Shearer's competing Southern and Eastern European accents, and the Yiddish words sprinkled awkwardly throughout the dialogue (which is not as much of an exaggeration as it ought to be), and the emotional Purim dinner scene. But if Purim (or, as it's later titled, Home for Thanksgiving) is so terrible, how could it ever be nominated for any awards? It's one thing to ask us to believe that its creators and cast might be fooled by an Internet rumor, but only in a parallel universe could all of the Hollywood machine be sucked in by the hype - and if this is all taking place in some parallel universe, it stops functioning as satire.

FYC drops the documentary format of Guest's previous projects (mostly, anyway), probably to keep it from feeling too formulaic. But as a result it feels much too plot-driven, and yet big chunks of the story seem to be missing. What happened to the movie-within-the-movie when "Purim" became "Thanksgiving"? We never see even a minute of the finished product. Instead we see not-very-funny clips from other potential Oscar nominees, and while I enjoyed seeing John Krasinski and everything, I would have preferred to see more of the usual Guest stars (ha!) doing their thing. Reviews I've read mention Fred Willard, almost obligatorily, as one of the movie's highlights (all except for Time magazine, whose reviewer enjoyed the performance of one Fred Ward), but I thought Jane Lynch, who plays his cohost on a typically vapid entertainment-focused television program, was much funnier. Willard's parade of silly hairstyles only emphasized how underused his talents are here. But Jane Lynch stood, and moved her head, in such a way that I laughed every time she was on the screen. So the movie does have its moments. During the last third of the movie, Catherine O'Hara, too, had only to appear to make me laugh. Eugene Levy is his usual one-note self, but he's not overused, as in the other 3 films, so that's something to be thankful for. Parker Posey is terrific as ever, and Christopher Guest is once again almost unrecognizable, although he's also unusually peripheral.

I would love to see Catherine O'Hara get an Oscar nod for this movie, if only because it would make for an irresistably meta-cinematic moment. Her performance is reason enough to check out For Your Consideration. But after you've watched it once, you'll be back to reciting scenes from Guffman - and in the end, you might have just as much fun playing with your My Dinner with Andre action figures.


BF Dan said...

This is some of the best writing I have ever encountered on the World Wide Interweb (the one with the email)! I predict Restricted View is going to become an influential Web Blog.

Mollie said...

Why thank you, my totally impartial friend! As we all know, nothing has more authority than opinions posted on the internet. So I'm sure you're right.

Ted Stevens said...

After enjoying this series of electronic handbills, I am upgrading my assessment of the Internets from Big Truck to Series of Tubes.