Reuniting virtually all of the personnel from Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration is a middling Hollywood comedy that trods familiar ground and never quite gets its comedic feet under it. Once again, as in A Mighty Wind, co-writer and director Christopher Guest’s affection for his characters undermines the potential for humor. The subject of Oscar hype in Hollywood might be ripe for scathing satire, but all this movie can manage is a softball thrown underhand.
Jay Berman (Guest) is directing a small (very small) period film called Home for Purim, about a Jewish family gathering for a holiday in the American South during the 1940s. The mother is dying and their estranged daughter returns with her lesbian lover. The mother is played by Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), an insecure actress known mostly for a role playing a blind prostitute back in the eighties. Her husband is played by Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), a middle-aged actor most recognizable for playing a hot dog in commercials for a line of kosher wieners. His agent (Eugene Levy) has more excuses than paying jobs. Playing the daughter is a tightly wound ex-standup comic named Callie Webb (Parker Posey).
The project is humming along in blissful obscurity when an Oscar buzz for Marilyn, Victor and Callie starts appearing on the Internet. Suddenly, the little film is the center of a lot of attention from both the media and the studio, who is beginning to fear that the movie is perhaps a little “too Jewish.” This doesn’t sit too well with the film’s writers, two slumming playwrights (Bob Balaban and Michael McKean, who looks alarmingly like Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinnati).
The film’s stars find themselves on the usually array of brainless “entertainment news” shows, including an obvious take-off on Entertainment Tonight hosted by Jane Lynch and Fred Willard (who mostly just rehashes his bits from Best in Show). The biggest problem here is that, while the targets are recognizable, they are also obvious and the comedy directed at them is limp at best. This movie doesn’t have much to say about the movie business that wasn’t said more bitingly by Blake Edwards 25 years earlier in S.O.B. Also, while the target is contemporary Hollywood, the acting in the movie-within-the-movie is so not contemporary in style that it seems like you are watching someone’s erroneous idea of what bad acting was like in 1946.
While this movie is not done in the same “mockumentary” style of Guest’s previous works, he does employ the same improvisation approach and I think this might have been the real mistake. This movie needed a tighter hand to give its humor the focus it needs.
While I won’t give away the ending, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given Guest’s affection for characters who are lovable losers. Frankly, I think a better, much funnier movie could have been made about a movie that cleaned up at Oscar time and then was denounced for beating what was perceived as a much worthier film, like what happened when Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture of 1998. Seriously, is there any left alive who thinks that Shakespeare was the better movie?