Ever since Christopher Guest kicked around small-town theater buffs in Waiting For Guffman, the knock against his “mockumentaries” has been that they’re petty and cruel, skewering the pretensions of the well-meaning, powerless people who hang around the fringes of the entertainment world. Guest’s new film For Your Consideration ostensibly tackles the ridiculousness of Oscar campaigns, but again Guest swims away from the whales and sharks and feasts on the guppies. The self-deluding awards-grubbers in For Your Consideration have all been working on an indie film—the improbable holiday melodrama Home For Purim—and when they get an inkling that their little movie could be something bigger, the stars and producers alike sell out as fast and as shamelessly as they can. The story mirrors Guest’s early film The Big Picture, only without any notes of redemption.
Like The Big Picture, For Your Consideration eschews the mockumentary style. Nobody in FYC addresses the camera directly; only the semi-improvised dialogue remains, along with the cast of Guest regulars such as Harry Shearer, Jennifer Coolidge and Parker Posey. Catherine O’Hara stars as veteran C-list actress Marilyn Hack (note the needless dig embedded in her name), who starts getting Oscar buzz for her performance as the dying mother in the still-in-production Home For Purim. Rather than going after the venality of Oscar campaigns per se, or the awards season in general, Guest and his co-screenwriter Eugene Levy largely explore how advance hype cheapens the movie as it’s being made.
The removal of Guest’s overarching mock-doc aesthetic has two effects: it shows his utter lack of skill as a visual stylist, and it makes his almost willful cluelessness about the way Hollywood works seem especially lame. Without the mockumentary’s buffer of absurdity, this conglomeration of old show-business stereotypes and Jewish jokes feels foggy, like it was bounced off some distant satellite from a signal originating 35 years ago. Talk about missed opportunity: what might Guest and company have done with something like the Independent Spirit Awards?
And yet, even though Guest and company are inventing unbelievable types and unaccountably ridiculing them, For Your Consideration remains reasonably funny. The movie will muddle along, missing more than it hits—but then Harry Shearer’s uptight second banana will get booked on an MTV-style show called Chillaxin’, and the general silliness ramps up and bubbles over. At times like that, it’s hard to grumble much about what FYC doesn’t do.
And it’s not as if Guest can’t hit showbiz pretension with dead-on accuracy. An unctuous Access Hollywood-style show hosted by Fred Willard and Jane Lynch nails the fake enthusiasm and barely veiled sense of superiority that marks the genre. (The perfect touch: Willard’s faux-hawk hairdo.) There’s truth to the way FYC’s Hollywood is essentially a high-school drama class where easily bruised, insecure kids gather to stroke each other. Nor is it implausible that some website might start touting a performance by a nobody in a nothing film that hasn’t even opened yet. (For your consideration: this year’s here-and-gone Jackie Earle Haley comeback.)
For Your Consideration may be lazy, but there’s a weird integrity to the way Guest’s sour sensibility remains undiluted, from beginning to end. The movie opens with O’Hara gazing raptly at an old movie on TV, then abruptly switching it off—emphasizing the disposability of even the movies that move us. And FYC ends with a grotesquely Botoxed actress earning a paycheck by teaching the next generation of actors how to delude themselves. At moments like these, Guest’s vision is neither cruel nor kind. It is—just for a moment, mind you—honest.