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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Review: For Your Consideration (2006)

* *

Director: Christopher Guest
Starring: the usual suspects

For Your Consideration is David Guest’s satirical take on the Oscars or, to be more specific, on how Oscar “buzz” can shape the direction and marketing of a film and its stars. I’m a big fan of Guest’s early work - This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting For Guffman rank amongst my favorite comedies - but I find that his films become increasingly uneven as time goes on. This one is no different, consisting of a very funny first half and a second half that left me distinctly cold.

Unlike Guest’s previous efforts, For Your Consideration isn’t a mockumentary; it’s a straight-up behind the screens movie. It follows the making of a small indie movie called “Home For Purim,” which stars Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara, perhaps the most underrated comedic talent in films today), a talented actress who somehow never found her break into stardom; Victor Allen Miller (Harry Shearer), best known for commercials where he dresses like a hotdog; Callie Webb (Parker Posey), stand-up comedian turned actress; Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan); and Mary Pat Hooligan (Rachel Harris), a method actress whose name isn’t actually “Mary Pat Hooligan” but who insists on being called that on the set because it’s the name of her character.

“Home For Purim” is an over-wrought family drama which is set during WWII and comes complete with dying mother, brother on leave from the navy, and sister with a secret (“I met a nice man,” she announces, “Her name is Mary Pat!”). A rumor gets started on the internet that Marilyn may be on her way to an Oscar nomination for her work in the film and this one little rumor, started by someone who claims to have visited the set, quickly snowballs and sparks similar buzz for both Victor and Callie, making this little indie a matter of great interest for the studio that will be distributing it (headed up by Ricky Gervais, who doesn’t get nearly enough to do here). In order to capitalize on the buzz and make the film more accessible to audiences, the studio decides to make some changes, which includes renaming it “Home For Thanksgiving” in an effort to “tone down” the Jewish element of the story. Meanwhile the hype continues to build and build until Oscar nomination day and then, well, let’s just say that it doesn’t end happily for all involved.

With each film that Guest and company make, the comedy seems to get broader, becoming more parody than satire. While the characters in these films have always been ridiculous, they seem to be becoming less realistically so with each outing and the situations that they find themselves in are becoming less clever and more over-the-top. This isn’t to say that there aren't little nuggets of brilliance scattered here and there, but they seem to be becoming fewer and farther between. One of my favorite things about this film is the absolutely spot-on send up of Access Hollywood with Jane Lynch as the Nancy O’Dell-esque co-host, but even that begins to wear thin as the film approaches its end.

Now, about the end. The first half of the film is fun, making light of the way that buzz is manufactured and can take on a life of its own before a film has even entered into post-production, but the second half of the film is decidedly mean-spirited and actually made me kind of uncomfortable. It’s one thing to take a character with an inflated ego and cut them down to size, but it’s another to take a character who is already at their lowest point and have another character basically screaming “loser” in their face. I think I laughed only once during the second half – when Marilyn, buying into the star-making hype, undergoes a series of plastic surgeries and shows up looking distinctly like Guest mainstay Jennifer Coolidge – and that was due more to surprise than anything else.

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