Title: For Your Consideration
Director: Christopher Guest
Screenwriters: Christopher Guest
Starring: Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey
There are few filmmakers whose next project I anticipate with as much fervor as Christopher Guest’s. What went wrong? For Your Consideration feels thin and has little of his usual cohesive, character-based brilliance. Guest is often labeled an “affectionate” satirist, which is sometimes accurate and other times less so; here, though, he fails to spend enough time with most of his subjects to establish any sort of tone. The film, which ditches the comfortable mockumentary format of Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind in favor of a more generic narrative, doesn’t fail to amuse — Guest and Co.’s jabs at the movie industry are often as sharp as you’d expect — but the sum of its parts is hollow, oddly toothless.
Part of the problem may be that Guest’s roving band of improvisational troubadours is getting too large. Guest is notoriously picky about whom he will invite into his casts, but for all that, his strategy seems to be to grow the list of the chosen from project to the project. This time around, Ricky Gervais, Carrie Aizley and Sandra Oh join familiar faces like Guest, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Ed Begley, Jr., Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake, Jennifer Coolidge, Jim Piddock and others. These are profoundly, tremendously funny people, and the newcomers are no exception. But with For Your Consideration coming in at under 90 minutes, they get scarce time in the limelight.
As such, many of the parts turn into bits. It’s worth noting that in Best in Show, Fred Willard’s dim-witted commentator was not only a comedic centerpiece but a bizarre and perversely fascinating personality. Here, we get roughly a half-dozen mini-clones of that character, with Willard essentially reprising him in the form of a mohawked co-host of an “Access Hollywood” facsimile; he’s joined there by a hysterically funny Jane Lynch, but the two don’t get much to do before being edged off by another of Team Guest’s wacky creations. They’re virtually all funny — I particularly liked Aizley’s astoundingly vapid celebrity interviewer, whose questions are strings of nonsense clichés, though ones that, speaking as someone who has seen an interview roundtable or a dozen in his day, sadly resemble questions movie talent are often asked — but they feel like gags rather than characters.
Guest is also more flippant than usual with his central figures. He’s particularly nasty to Catherine O’Hara’s Marilyn Hack, a C-list actress who has managed to get a part as the dying mom in the gloriously B-grade independent film Home for Purim. She is beside herself with excitement when a blogger (a complete lack of knowledge of the Internet is a running joke) visits the set and opines that there may in fact be an Oscar nomination in store for her performance. Hack is interesting — rather than being entirely oblivious, as Guest characters tend to be, she combines a denial of her station with a touchingly naîve hope for better things (upon a suggestion that she teach acting, she pauses and replies,” I wouldn’t dare). O’Hara’s performance is brilliant as usual, provoking sympathy and gentle laughter, but the film’s last act leaves her helpless in its mocking grip as Guest suddenly turns on her. Guest rarely shies away from making his characters seem vaguely pathetic, but here he seems to take a particular delight in tearing them down.
In the end, for all the comedic firepower that Guest still wields, For Your Consideration didn’t leave me, as the prior films have, with the warm and fuzzy feeling of having just seen a meticulously constructed work of comic genius. There’s still genius to be found, but it peeks out here and there instead of enveloping you in its splendor. Alarmist prognostications of Guest’s downfall are premature — every great filmmaker disappoints from time to time. But that For Your Consideration is a disappointment, I have no doubt.