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And the Winner Isn't…

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Trailer for "For Your Consideration"

Here’s the short version: If you liked Christopher Guest’s other films—Waiting For Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind—you’ll probably like this too. Same kind of movie, same actors, same improvised-with-guidance technique, in a comedy about actors in a low-budget production who become obsessed with Oscar buzz. Go, see, enjoy.

Me, I’ve never been much of a fan of Guest as a filmmaker. He’s undeniably a funny performer, and the ensemble he works with in these films consists of some of the smartest players working today: Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Larry Miller, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., et al. Any one of them can add a lot to a movie, and often they’ll be the sole saving grace of an otherwise forgettable project.

Guest’s failure is that he sets his sights so low. Like his collaborator Eugene Levy, he was at his best on television, where the kind of parody they specialize in works best. All of his movies are filled with moments that would have made a terrific five- or 10-minute sketch on a show like Saturday Night Live or SCTV. Guest and Levy are adept at ridiculous ideas (just as their players are skilled at getting the humor out of portraying them), but those things spin themselves out after a few minutes. A feature-length film needs more meat to it, or at least some organic connection among the bits.

For instance, the movie that we watch being made is a 1940s-style drama in a Norman Rockwell setting. As it goes on, we start noticing the incongruous bits of Yiddish dropped into the dialogue. Then we get the title, Home for Purim, and learn that it is the product of a Jewish director and writers who have no idea how their cultural experience differs from that of the Midwesterners they want to portray.

In and of itself, that’s funny. For a few minutes we can accept that someone would make such a preposterous movie. But as For Your Consideration goes on, and we learn more about its production and watch as three of its actors become consumed by ill-founded rumors that they may be up for Oscar nominations, it collapses under the weight. Before long you can’t ignore the fact that no one could ever actually make this film. Nor could these reasonably intelligent actors play these parts; nor could they seriously believe that anyone could take the film seriously, much less laud their work.

That’s just one example. Guest is never interested in anything beyond the immediate laugh, which certainly makes it easy to sell his films: It’s filled with bits that are funny in and of themselves (particularly any bit featuring Fred Willard, whose “fauxhawk” haircut is a hoot). But as a whole, there’s just no there there.

Give For Your Consideration credit for this: In making fun of Hollywood’s awards mentality, Guest and Levy are aiming a bit higher than the targets of their previous movies. But their humor, when stretched out to this length, is as always unbecomingly condescending, especially given that they’ve aimed no higher than the lowest rung of Hollywood. The inflated aspirations of untalented people strike me as more sad than laughable. These films all have funny moments, but cumulatively they just leave a bad taste in my mouth, like watching Dick Cheney and his friends shooting birds that have been raised in captivity.