"For Your Consideration," dir. Christopher Guest (Oklahoma Gazette)
A genius at opening closed systems to intense scrutiny and hilarious parody, Guest moved through rock music, community theater, dog shows and folk music before taking on film awards, a subject already so absurd as to be, perhaps, beyond the reach of parody. No matter the stated subject, however, Guest’s real focus is always a humanistic take on the seminal text of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Director, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
While the Preacher who speaks the words in the Bible takes on the bigger existential futility of human endeavor, the Director tackles the experiential foolishness of it all. In the films leading to “For Your Consideration,” the hits come fast and furious with little time for reflection. In this film, the pace is different and — this may not be a good thing — there is pathos I don’t remember in the others.
The pacing problem affects about the first half of the movie. Once the steam builds, this train wreck in the making becomes very funny; as Guest is shoveling on the coal, however, the laughs are sparse.
When the humor does start to build, that pathos frequently applies the brakes. Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) and Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) are stars of a D-grade film called “Home for Purim” and veterans who have put in 30 to 40 years as struggling actors. Absurdly, someone posts on a blog that Hack’s performance deserves Oscar consideration. Neither Hack nor Miller has any sense of what the Internet is or how it works; neither does their clueless publicist (John Michael Higgins). Old media thinking about new media information is a disaster.
Desperate for recognition, three of the four stars of “Home for Purim” ultimately get sucked into the horror of hoping for an Oscar nomination. The third is Callie Webb (Parker Posey), a younger actor. As their publicist tries to convert the virtual into actual, all three become ever more emotionally vulnerable. While Posey suggests the real need behind her character’s silliness, Shearer and, especially, O’Hara play their emotional nakedness a bit too realistically for parody. Posey elicits sympathy and Shearer a gentle sadness. O’Hara, however, makes us pity Hack. Pity and parody don’t play well together.
That said, Guest does a great job skewering insipid shows like “Entertainment Tonight” and pretentious ones like “Inside the Actors Studio,” taking down ill-prepared television people asking pointless questions during publicity spots and driving home the absurdity of a thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach to judging films.
To everything there is an awards season, sayeth the Director. I’m just not sure how many non-cinephiles will care.