This is a sharp but touching examination of the reaction of the cast and crew of an unremarkable film when rumours start circulating that the lead actors might be up for Oscar nominations. Directed by Christopher Guest, best known for This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show, it fails to break new ground; but when something is this funny, why mess with a winning formula?
Conisseurs of Christopher Guest’s films will love For Your Consideration. It has Best In Show‘s outrageously zany characters, coupled with A Mighty Wind‘s quiet humanity. Featuring a film within a film, and many clips from parody TV shows, it allows his extensive cast of regulars to show off as much as they like, creating beautifully wrought comic characters full of twitches and vocal mannerisms. They are clearly loving every minute of it.
The plot concerns the lead players in a truly awful film, “Home For Purim”, funded by a British money man played by Ricky Gervais, whose charmless attempt to be cool makes your buttocks clench. Written by two pompous stage dramatists who think it’s deep and meaningful, and produced by another of Jennifer Coolidge’s brainless botoxed blondes, it’s a Jewish family drama set in the 1940s deep south. Parker Posey gives a perfect, nervous performance as the failed standup comedienne who’s turned to acting and been cast as the daughter returning to her dying mother’s bedside, determined to finally come out of the closet. The actress playing the mother (Catherine O’Hara) hears a rumour that a website has mentioned she is worthy of an Oscar nomination. Obviously, she tells everyone, it’s of no importance, it’s all about her art, yet is desperately hopeful for some recognition.
Within a couple of days, thanks to a cluster of publicists and Hollywood’s self-serving gossip mill, three of the film’s four stars are being touted as Oscar hopefuls. As the clock ticks towards nomination day, this leads to a slew of increasingly humiliating appearances on talk shows, shock jock radio and kids TV (Harry Shearer’s ageing thesp trying to ‘get down with da kidz’ is particularly cringe-worthy). Yet the film never loses sight of the fact that these are people who’ve struggled to get anywhere who’re suddenly overwhelmed to be given some attention, and who are likely to get damaged by all the fuss.
Guest is working with a cast who are now very familiar with improvising around an outline, his preferred method of working, and while some of the actors return to fertile character types from earlier films, others have branched out in new directions. It’s nice to see Guest’s co-writer, Eugene Levy, playing an oily agent, rather than his usual putz, and indeed to see Guest himself as a paunchy, shock-haired director giving his cast increasingly odd instructions as he tries hard to stop himself giving a damn about his obviously absurd material.
Fred Willard, memorable as Buck Laughlin, the announcer in Best In Show, gives a crowd-pleasing turn as a permatanned hyperactive gossip show host. Together with Jane Lynch, who turns in an equally cheesy performance as his co-host, they represent the breathless inanity of showbiz.
Some people might feel Guest’s been here before, that a story about a bunch of quirky, near lunatic characters thrown together in a competitive situation isn’t much of a challenge for him – especially when it allows his actors to parody their own profession. But as usual it’s a tautly edited film full of people giving short but glorious performances that will make most audiences roar with laughter as well as touching them. And if you can deliver that time after time, why change?