Review by Tom Huddleston
Posted on 24 October 2006
Source Warner Independent Pictures 35mm print
Features: The Times BFI 50th London Film Festival
The right honourable Lord Haden-Guest and his roving troupe of semi-improv players have been quietly ploughing the same comic furrow for a decade now (longer if you count the Spinal Tap years). In three acute studies of outsider creativity and aspirational anxiety (Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show and A Mighty Wind) they have created worlds and characters simultaneously ludicrous and recognisable, mocking but never derisive. For Your Consideration makes one important alteration to the Guest formula—instead of the usual fake documentary this is a straight comic fiction (albeit with occasional to-camera interviews, for old time’s sake). But in every other aspect, absolutely everything, this is business as usual.
The film follows the production of a low budget family melodrama entitled Home For Purim, a weird hybrid of ’40s Southern gothic and light Jewish family comedy overseen by frazzled director Jay Berman, played, naturally, by Guest himself. When an internet fansite suggests that lead actress Marilyn Hack could be looking at a potential Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the dying matriarch, the buzz surrounding this little project begins to escalate. But the plot is, essentially, irrelevant. Guest has come a long way since The Big Picture and achieved success on his own terms—this isn’t a biting Hollywood satire, and although the suits get their way in the end, leading to a major alteration in the film, there’s no sense that it’s any great travesty. As usual in Guest’s work everyone, from the studio head to the TV commentators, is a sucker, deluded and grasping, but also quite possibly some sort of genius, given the opportunity.
The same faults which increasingly plagued the previous three films are at work again here. The humour is sometimes a little too gentle, too easy, each actor (with the notable exception of a wonderfully nasal Jennifer Coolidge) playing it straight until it comes time for them to suddenly overact. The characterisation is necessarily rather thin; there are so many of them, and although the actors do a great deal with limited screen time there’s still an occasional sense of short shrift. This time the leads are Catherine O’Hara and Harry Shearer, as Purim’s central couple, a pair of washed up actors desperate for one last opportunity to prove themselves. Ironically, O’Hara’s straight acting scenes are arguably more affecting than her comic ones—the character is a little too desperate to be likeable. Shearer is more effective, as an insecure man faced with sudden fame and finding himself surprisingly good at dealing with it. His appearance on meaningless yoof-TV extravaganza “Chillaxin’” is painfully hilarious. Special mention should also go to Parker Posey as stand-up turned actress Callie Webb, Purim’s wayward lesbian daughter. Posey manages to rise above the often cluttered nature of the film, investing her character with a genuine pathos and vulnerability. The glimpse of her failed one woman show (‘No Penis Intended’) is one of the film’s highlights.
Again, the numerous incidental characters steal the show. By far the funniest thing in the film is Fred Willard’s hair, dyed blonde and swept into a fashionable fin. But the actor beneath gives good value, too—it’s essentially the same role he played in the last two movies (and, memorably, in Undeclared): the bumbling, overenthusiastic, well-meaning ignoramus, this time hosting entertainment show Hollywood Now. His observations — on actors, celebrities, French cinema — are uniformly hysterical (“I don’t like the films where you have to read… makes me feel like I’m getting breaking news”). Don Lake and Michael Hitchcock’s ‘Love It, Hate It’ film critics are another highlight, the seething tension in their relationship adding real spice to their regrettably brief appearances.
Guest’s films have always blurred the line between cameo and character, but this time too many memorable figures get lost in the fray—there’s John Michael Higgins’ put-upon publicist Corey, whose obsession with his one-eighth Choctaw heritage doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s the only one who knows what he’s doing. There’s Rachael Harris as the unnamed method actress who prefers to be known by her character name Mary Pat Hooligan, silently threatening the rest of the cast and crew with her harsh gaze and vicious bowl cut. There’s Bob Balaban and Michael McKean as Purim’s writers, who barely seem to appear at all. Other Guest regulars with a right to feel short changed include a wonderfully camp Ed Begley, Jr., co-writer Eugene Levy predictably useless as Shearer’s agent, and especially Christopher Moynihan as Purim’s adolescent war hero, the only actor to actually get nominated, though we never find out how this affects his life—Guest’s camera stays on the losers. The newest addition to the cast is Ricky Gervais, proving again that he’s capable of playing only one character, and that it’s almost certainly himself. His performance tends to grate, but perhaps it’s just overfamiliarity. There are also a huge number of minor celebrity cameos, occasionally distracting from the central action—blink and you’ll miss Sandra Oh, Mary McCormack, Loudon Wainwright, Joe Satriani, Claire Forlani… the list goes on.
As comedy, the film works surprisingly well—it’s perhaps the funniest film Guest has made since Guffman. There’s no disputing the enthusiasm and talent of all involved: it’d be interesting to see a documentary on the making of these films, to find out if everyone is really having as much fun as they appear to be. But one can’t help shake the feeling that there should be more somehow—more feeling, more character, more engagement, more bite. For Your Consideration is a pleasure to watch, and will no doubt sustain repeated viewings, as all of Guest’s films seem to. But its joys are all ephemeral—there’s nothing to rival the fragile beauty of Mitch and Mickey, or the budding relationship between Coolidge and Jane Lynch in Best In Show. There are no all time classic characters, no outstanding scenes, nothing to really treasure. Nothing, that is, except for Fred Willard’s hair.