Christopher Guest’s latest film, 2006’s non-mockumentary For Your Consideration, which skewers both the Hollywood and Independent film genres, is his weakest film to date. That said, it’s still a fine little comedy. Guest, who rose to fame in the seminal 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner, had released three mockumentaries to great critical success and solid box office. These were Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, all featuring Guest’s own ensemble of actors, from Indy film queen Parker Posey to old SCTV regulars like Eugene Levy (his writing partner on this and other films), Catherine O’Hara, and Fred Willard (who, as usual, steals this film).
Yet, while the film is not as consistently funny nor good as the prior three films, it nevertheless represents some true artistic growth for Guest, as the non-mockumentary style actually allows some real pathos to infiltrate the screenplay. In truth, while he invented the satiric subgenre of the mockumentary, even that can only be exploited so often. This film allows for the addition of some small moments of drama which could signal Guest’s arrival as if not an heir, then a rival, to the films of Woody Allen.
The film’s story can be summarized this way: veteran actress Marilyn Hack (O’Hara) is working on the World War Two melodramatic indy film, Home For Purim, playing a dying Jewish woman from Dixie, and gets wind of a possible Oscar nod for her role. Soon, her co-stars Callie Webb (Posey), who plays her lesbian daughter, and Victor Allen Miller (Harry Shearer), who plays her husband, also get wind of possible bids. What ensues is a comedy of errors, wherein the three prospective nominees react in different ways to their “success,” even if the film is not completed. Marilyn eventually gets plastic surgery, loses the nomination, and ends up embittered as an acting coach. Callie’s nod leads to her eventual breakup with actor Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan), who plays her “onscreen” brother, and envies her supposed nod. She winds up in a Karen Finleyesque one woman show called No Penis Intended. Then, ironically, Chubb ends up the only cast member with an Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor. Shearer takes the news of his possible consideration (hence the film’s title) in relative stride, and is hence not too bummed out by not getting it. He goes back to his day job as an actor in bad television commercials.
However, For Your Consideration does a great job of skewering the Hollywood obsessions with celebrity and rumor, at first building up the trio with appearances on local morning television shows, commentary on a Siskel & Ebert-like film critics show, radio morning shock jocks, even a spoof of PBS’s The Charlie Rose Show, and a truly hilarious spoof on infotainment shows like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, The Insider, and Extra! This is where Fred Willard’s goofy Chuck (replete with a spectacularly age inappropriate faux-hawk) comes in. Some of the film’s best one liners and moments come in the faux promos within the film, as well as a hilarious segment wherein Willard and his Mary Hart-like cohost, Cindy (Jane Lynch), interview the cast on set with a bunch of inane and non sequitured queries, such as asking Victor who was his favorite kid on The Brady Bunch.
Ultimately, the film’s British producer gets the film’s director, Jay Berman (Guest), producer, Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge) — a garbage company heiress, and writers (Michael McKean and Bob Balaban as Lane Iverson and Philip Koontz), to agree to lessen the Jewishness of the film, and retitles it Home For Thanksgiving. When the three who expect nominations do not get them we follow them through their paces, and very funnily as they are tracked down by a relentless Chuck, who is deterred only by Marilyn’s drunken and profanity ridden kiss-off. The film ends with an embittered, but still smiling, Marilyn declaring to her none too bright acting students, after her own particularly over the top performance, that she’s comfortable in her own skin. It’s a genuinely pathetic moment, in the best sense, and ends the film which, while disappointing to those expecting another mockumentary, augurs well for Guest’s future growth as a filmmaker.
The film runs only 86 minutes and is shown in 1.85:1 aspect ratio on the DVD by Warner Brothers. The score and cinematography are all solid, but one does not watch a film like this for Nino Rota-like music nor Gordon Willis-like cinematography. It’s all about the writing, and this is where the film should have made a more clear choice between whether it would be comedic or dramatic. As it is, it is merely a good little comedy, filled with tee-hee moments, and no guffaws (save for a few Willard moments), but it could have also been an effective dramady in the vein of Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. In the middle, it sometimes falls flat, with humor that is too dry. The DVD contains a commentary by Guest and Levy, and it’s only so-so, with no great insights. There are some faux theatrical posters for Home For Purim, a theatrical trailer, and some deleted scenes which are often more hilarious than the non-Willard moments kept in the film.
In trying to get at the heart of why For Your Consideration is merely good, not hilarious, I think that an over-reliance on improvisation is at fault. In a mockumentary, such rough moments can be “disguised” as byproducts of the faux reality, whereas in a straight film like this they cannot. A good example is provided by John Michael Higgins as Corey Taft, the stolid agent for Marilyn Hack. While he’s got a few good scenes, too many of his obnoxious to the core character simply is stuff seen done better before. And he suffers in contrast to Levy’s character, Morley Orfkin, agent to Victor Allen Miller. The same goes for Ed Begley Jr.’s tired and routine gay makeup man character, Sandy Lane. Also, some of the same old tired in-jokes and stereotypes about Hollywood abound. If only two or three were used, rather than fifteen or twenty, the film would have been better off, and the balance would have aided the true pathos of the film. In that sense, this film was a bit lesser version of David Mamet’s State and Main crossed with Robert Altman’s The Player.
Yet, despite all that, this film is, in truth, a good adult comedy, and given that they are so rare, its flaws are minor in comparison to its good points. Compare it to the latest black or teen exploitation comedy and you’ll agree. For Your Consideration may not, itself, be worthy of consideration for an Academy Award, but it may stand out as a critical film in the continued evolution of one of American film’s most original and funny filmic auteurs. La chaim!