Christopher Guest’s mocumentaries are famous for examining peculiar subcultures. But even as I enjoyed Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), and A Mighty Wind (2003), I was nagged by doubt, not at the quality of the humor, but the strength of the supposed satire. None of his films since 1984’s This is Spinal Tap (cowritten by and costarring Guest, but not directed by him) achieves that film’s precise targeting. Was the folk music world, for example, really asking for it in 2003, 30 or 40 years after its peak in popularity?
The new Guest project, For Your Consideration takes on Hollywood, specifically the idea of “Oscar buzz.” The film’s title comes from Oscar ads placed by studios to trumpet the availability of actors or films for nominations. No one involved with making film-within-the-film Home for Purim, a misbegotten indie about a Southern-Jewish homecoming, seems to harbor Oscar hopes. At least not until an internet posting touts never-was actress Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) as a possible nominee. Following this advocacy, which is anonymous and, from what we see of Purim, hilariously unfounded, entertainment media come calling. Soon, frequent commercial actor Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) and upstart Callie Webb (Parker Posey) are eyed for potential nominations, too.
The idea of small-timers with delusions of grandeur is not new for Guest and company, but For Your Consideration creates a world for its characters that is less insular than in his earlier films. They are not strung along only by their own sad whims, but also by outside forces like the internet, infotainment programs, and studio heads. A particularly broad and deserving target is provided by the movie’s Entertainment Tonight knockoff, hosted by Chuck Porter (Fred Willard) and Cindy Martin (Jane Lynch). Willard reprises his enthusiastic fool routine from the previous films, but it’s especially suited to entertainment news, where enthusiastic foolishness is part of the job description. Lynch’s vapid posing — she plays the co-anchor as a stance in search of a personality — is even funnier.
Not everyone shines, though. Guest’s ensemble is filled to bursting. All of the regulars return, relegating additional players (like Ricky Gervais and John Krasinski) to a handful of scenes. With that sprawling cast and a trim running time, the film leaves veterans like Michael McKean and cowriter Eugene Levy with short shrift. Worse, some of their jokes are downright standard. Levy’s small-time agent who neglects his has-been client is merely a stereotype, stating his devotion to a client right before ignoring him to take another call. Surely the gifted Levy could have improvised something fresher.
It’s possible that such shortcomings represent a cast-wide adjustment to a new format. Though it maintains the creative process of previous Guest films, For Your Consideration drops the documentary conceit, proceeding instead as a straight narrative. This decision doesn’t pay off as richly as we might hope.
Despite its comparatively strong plot and sharp satire, For Your Consideration seems less substantial than Guest’s other directorial efforts. Like them, For Your Consideration has memorable moments: Hack’s change from neurotic, aging actress into a type who is far sadder and creepier (and more botoxed, natch) borders on terrifying. But such insights into the effects of hype and the town’s incessant “business” don’t build to anything. If some of Guest’s previous targets felt too tiny to bother hitting, this film does offer a worthy one. But this time, it’s the picture that got small.