Movie review: 'For Your Consideration'
Movie producer Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge, in platinum hair and a slightly askew black beret), leans on a slant board. Explaining that she's unable to sit down, she says airily, "I fell over the side of an escalator."
Why is this funny? I don't know, but it just is. As is Christopher Guest's movie-themed new film "For Your Consideration"; not rolling-in-the-aisles funny but gently funny, finding its humor in the foibles and non sequiturs of a group of characters who bear some resemblance to real life, except with funnier hair. While it feels a shade less consistent than Guest's previous improvisational romps "A Mighty Wind," "Best in Show" and "Waiting for Guffman" - it's slow to start, and a few scenes fall flat - it's a quiet but often giggly pleasure.
Part of the reason Guest's films work as comedy is because the performances are so heartfelt, never winking to the audience - these characters don't know that they're funny. At the center of "For Your Consideration" is Marilyn Hack (the marvelous Catherine O'Hara), a veteran actress earnestly donning frumpy costumes for her role as a dying mother in "Home for Purim," an indie melodrama set among a 1940s Southern family. (In the film-within-the-film, a daughter - played, with a firmly raised chin, by Parker Posey - returns home for the holidays ready to unveil a Dark Secret.)
Told by someone on the set that her work's being buzzed for a possible Oscar nomination, Marilyn's at first incredulous (though O'Hara lets her eyes shine), and then increasingly transformed in the weeks leading up to the nominations announcement. And those around her become transformed as well: The little-movie-that-could suddenly becomes big business, with swarming publicists, TV journalists and fawning critics. "It's about time, in a film, that nothing happens," says a drooling TV reviewer. (Yes, he's drooling. Literally.)
As in all of Guest's films, it's the little touches and the throwaway lines that register: a description of a young actress' one-woman show as "a humorless romp"; the way that Jane Lynch, as a grimly smiling "Entertainment Tonight"-ish broadcaster, stands in an oddly challenging, knees-bent stance (is she expecting trouble?); the irresistibly hummable "Purim Song" performed in the movie; the not-quite-subtle blond highlights acquired by veteran actor Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), who's trying his best to appeal to the young folks. (Most adults know him only from his commercials stint as Irv the Footlong Weiner.)
But the greatest pleasure of "For Your Consideration" is O'Hara's performance, which effortlessly blends comedy shtick (check out Marilyn post-Botox) and genuine poignancy. This is a middle-age working actress who holds her jaw tight when the studio security guard once again fails to recognize her, and whose once-promising career (its peak: playing "Imogen the blind prostitute") has dwindled into not-much. Watch her face when the nominations are finally read, and realize, as the giggles pause, that we're hoping to hear her name, too.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
With Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean. Directed by Guest, from a screenplay by Guest and Levy. 86 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual references and brief language.