Christopher Guest's recent series of comedic satires -- Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and now For Your Consideration -- are beloved by many and reviled by some. I've always had a mixed reaction. I thought Waiting for Guffman, about a community-theater troupe in small-town Missouri, was condescending. And I didn't get many laughs out of Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, but did find moments to cherish. In Best in Show, Fred Willard's gonzo turn as a dog-show color-commentator was one of the more sidesplitting bits in recent cinema. And A Mighty Wind, about the folk-revival scene, had a gentleness and sweetness that was new to Guest's films, especially in a surprisingly poignant turn from Guest regular Catherine O'Hara.
O'Hara finds a similar note early on in For Your Consideration, which follows the cast and crew of an indie drama after their little movie gets a bit of Internet Oscar buzz. Playing a past-her-prime actress, Marilyn Hack (her name a cruel joke on the character?), O'Hara stands in her sun-dappled California kitchen, watching Bette Davis and Henry Fonda parry in Jezebel on television and speaking the lines along with Davis. Perhaps the scene is meant to underscore Hack's actorly self-regard, but O'Hara makes it lovely.
Unfortunately, Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy make it impossible for O'Hara to keep this character identifiable, turning her into a grotesque joke of a plastic-surgery disaster by the film's end.
Similarly, the rest of For Your Consideration falls flat -- it's Guest's least funny, most out-of-touch movie yet.
The movie within a movie in For Your Consideration is Home for Purim, a square little Jewish family drama set in the WWII-era South. (The idea of conflating Jewishness and Southernness seems funny to the filmmakers, who have apparently never been to the South.) It stars Hack and down-on-his-heels actor Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), who is saddled with a mediocre agent (Levy) and a bill-paying gig wearing a wiener costume in hot-dog commercials. The rest of Guest's regular company of players fill in: Parker Posey as an actress playing the couple's estranged lesbian daughter; Guest as the film's director; Bob Balaban and Michael McKean as screenwriters. Of absolutely no surprise, the best bits come from Jane Lynch and the always sublime Willard as hosts of an Entertainment Tonight-like television show, Lynch's subtle physical comedy slyly eviscerating the genre.
The execution is off, but the subject matter might be a bigger part of the problem. Guest's style worked (if you say so) in his other movies in part because they were set in weird subcultures viewers were likely to be unfamiliar with -- small-town theater, dog-show competitors, folk devotees. Here, Guest and his troupe tackle a subject everyone is familiar with in the age of box-office grosses as news stories.
In an era of Entourage and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, For Your Consideration feels like a vision of Hollywood not by film professionals but by public-radio employees in Wisconsin. It feels like recent Woody Allen comedies, ostensibly set in the present but coming across, rather unintentionally, as a personal past that never really existed. The comedy is meant to evolve from the reality of these people and their situations -- their vanity, their ambition, their self-delusion -- but the characters are too dumb to be believed.