Ever since I saw This Is Spinal Tap (1984) the progenitor of every “mockumentary” in the history of cinema, I have admired Christopher Guest as a storyteller and filmmaker. He has an uncanny ability to tap into the heart of Americana. Any of the wonderful characters that inhabit his brilliant works like Best in Show (2000) and Waiting for Guffman (1996) could be your next-door neighbors or work colleagues. That being said, he is at his best when he pulls back the curtains to give us a glimpse into the lives of the marginally famous. A Mighty Wind (2003) digs deep into his world of folk music where a variety of one hit wonder groups attempt to stage a benefit concert in New York City. While the circumstances behind the scenes of the production are absurd, the relationships between the various personalities are the heart and soul of this effort from Guest. We laugh out loud at the ridiculous rivalries and the musicians’ attempts to stay relevant in the changing landscape of modern music.
One of my personal favorites in Guest’s filmography is the brilliant For Your Consideration (2006). This is the writer/director’s witty and slightly cutting look at Hollywood and the many different personalities that inhabit it. The script is insightful and showcases the delightful partnership that Guest has with Eugene Levy. Yes, that Eugene Levy of SCTV (1981) and Schitt’s Creek (2015) fame.
It is worth noting that like most directors, Guest has assembled his own troupe of intrepid thespians who regularly appear in his films. Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Bob Balaban, Jim Piddock, the late, great Fred Willard, Harry Shearer, Ed Begley, Jr., John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Paul Dooley, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake and Jennifer Coolidge can always be counted on to show up. Another distinction that For Your Consideration bears is the fact that it is Guest’s last original effort on the silver screen.
Out of all the meta movies about life in Tinseltown, this particular Guest project cuts to the bone. It is very truthful in its portrayal of those players who have toiled away at their craft for decades only to miss grabbing that one brass ring that could have propelled them onto the A-List. The story is about an indie film production, Home for Purim which tells the tale of a 1940’s Jewish family in the deep south who are celebrating Purim which is a holiday that “commemorates the survival of the Jews who were marked for death by their Persian rulers in the fifth century, BCE.” In addition to tackling that particular theme, the writers Philip Koontz (Bob Balaban) and Lane Iverson (Michael McKean) have also managed to throw in a lesbian love story in their wannabe Tennessee Williams with a dash of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956) opus.
Of course, the stars of this film are Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), a faded actress who is known for her role as Imogen, the blind prostitute in a 1970’s low budget production and Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) a stage trained actor who is relegated to appearing as a hot dog in a successful series of commercials. They are joined by relative newcomers, former stand-up comedian, Callie Webb (Parker Posey) and serious young “Method” thespian, Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan).
Somehow or other, the film’s publicist, the non-sensical and somewhat boorish, Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins) finds out that Marilyn is generating Oscar buzz. At first, it seems far fetched but after Love It or Hate It film critics (Don Lake and Michael Hitchcock who are blatantly channeling the old Siskel and Ebert PBS series) give their blessing to the little indie effort, it becomes a free-for-all of egos when Victor and Callie are also thrown into the mix for the gold statue.
What transpires is a hilarious take on Awards season and all the crazy publicity whore events that lead up to that big moment. Eugene Levy’s agent, Morley Orfkin is spot on as “always being there for his number one client, Victor” but never taking his calls. Christopher Guest also appears as Jay Berman, the daft director who wants to throw the script out because it’s not working much to the chagrin of writers Philip and Lane who by day are teachers so that they can afford to be writers.
Jennifer Coolidge is bonkers as the clueless producer, diaper service heiress, Whitney Taylor Brown who has no idea what she is doing. In her eyes, she “paying for a lot of ridiculous things like…snacks.” Throw in Ed Begley, Jr. as Sandy Lane, the gossipy, make-up and hair artist that worships at the altar of Marilyn Hack and you can see just how well-oiled Guest’s parody machine is.
There are also some notable cameos. In particular, Sandra Oh and Richard Kind are perfectly cast as the eager to please Marketing personnel who suggest misleading the viewing audience into thinking that Home for Purim is a horror film (don’t ask). Then we have Ricky Gervais as the head of Sun Classic Pictures, the distributors of this epic hot mess who convinces everyone to tone down the “Jewishness” of the production so that people will come see the film. Eventually, the title is changed to Home for Thanksgiving.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy For Your Consideration so much is that I KNOW these characters. They exist and I worked for some of them in the 1990’s. Guest and Levy have really dialed into the behind-the-scenes machinations of a town built on make believe and delusions of grandeur.
When Marilyn is told that she should impart her gifts to others and teach acting, she balks at the notion but then lo and behold after the Oscar tempest, she ends up doing exactly that. The scene with her students is hilarious and very truthful. I can tell you that I studied acting with the father of a well-known cult actor who had some supporting roles in major films during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Much like Marilyn taking over her class and making it all about her, this particular thespian/teacher would spend most of his time talking about himself rather than instructing his clients on the craft of acting.
Fred Willard and Jane Lynch as Chuck and Cindy, the hosts of an Entertainment Tonight (1981) knock-off program are hysterical. From their fluffy banter to their “posing” for the cameras, these particular entertainment personalities are just as self-absorbed as the celebrities they interview. Having worked around that type of element, it isn’t as glamorous as one might think. Nine times out of ten, if you are hired to be a production assistant (at least it worked this way in the past) you spend a good deal of your day doing personal errands for said hosts which could range from picking up dry cleaning to making personal appointments.
Pam Campanella (Carrie Aizley), Corey Taft’s PR assistant who is in charge of interviewing the Purim cast for featurettes (among other extras) almost made me fall out of my chair when she asked such insightful questions like “What does a producer do?” and “Writers. Home for Purim,” which wasn’t a query more like a statement designed to draw responses from Lane and Philip about their screenwriting techniques. Her character was very reminiscent of certain writers that pen those types of celebrity exchanges on “high profile” pop culture sites. You know the type of in-depth pieces that invariably get to the heart of why you think a particular star is “hot” or an entire article that revolves around chatting about hairstyles.
“Many a true word is spoken in jest” really does apply to Christopher Guest’s bona fide masterpiece, For Your Consideration. This talented artist hasn’t done anything since his Netflix series, Mascots (2016) which to me is downright criminal. Now, more than ever, in a world where we take everything too seriously, we could use his keen, irreverent humor as a reminder that it is okay to laugh at ourselves.