For Your Consideration

(2006) ** 1/2 Pg-13
86 min. Warner Independent Pictures. Director: Christopher Guest. Cast: Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins.

Self-absorption, vanity, and insecurity are the targets of Christopher Guest's Hollywood satire For Your Consideration. As with Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show (and, to a lesser extent, A Mighty Wind), For Your Consideration deals with hopeless strivers (this time, a batch of no-talent film "artists" making an Oscar-bait movie), and as with those earlier films, Consideration is improvised, by a crack cast, from a scenario by Guest and Eugene Levy. But For Your Consideration breaks with its predecessors in a significant respect: it isn't very funny.

Guest and Levy taking on Hollywood awards season is a great idea ruined by a succession of bad choices. Primarily, the writers forget to keep it real. The community theater, dog show, and folk circle of the previous films were all hilarious because of their resemblance to real places and people and attitudes. For Your Consideration gets most of the attitudes right, but forgoes depicting a realistic 2006 Hollywood. That's not only a big mistake, but a little depressing: are Guest and Levy scared of biting the hand that feeds or simply out of touch? In either case, the answer can't be good.

Guest announces his intentions from the opening scene, which finds washed-up actress Marilyn Hack moonily watching Jezebel on her TV and miming along. As it turns out, the movie Hack is in the process of making—"Home for Purim"—is a presposterous melodrama not only set in the '40s, but overacted in '40s style. No one in Hollywood is bankrolling a picture anything like this (it's also uncommon for a independent film to have—as "Home for Purim" does—a distributor while it's still being filmed, but who's counting?).

Guest takes particular aim at the meaninglessness and emotional damage of Oscar hysteria ("You see what a little bit of buzz can do in this town?"). But the satire doesn't sting because we don't believe what we're seeing. If the film weren't toothless, it would depict not "Home for Purim," but the sort of cynically splashy, star-packed war films and message pictures that actually win Oscars.

A scene of studio marketers pitching absurd poster designs is amusing, but likewise divorces reality: who would sell a Oscar-hopeful melodrama with frothy comic images like disembodied heads sticking up out of Jewish cookies? Compare this patent unrealism to the excruciatingly plausible bickering between a music executive and a head usher in A Mighty Wind's funhouse Carnegie Hall. One scene is wanly amusing in its ridiculousness; the other is plain funny in its satirical precision.

While it's perhaps also unrealistic that a distinctly Jewish drama, bursting with Yiddish, would be funded, that discrepancy does land as reasonably effective satire—in this respect, Home for Purim's unlikeliness makes a point. Unfortunately, in this respect, Home for Purim isn't funny. The Yiddish proves not to be inherently hilarious, and you'll see the punchline of "Home for Purim" being renamed "Home for Thanksgiving" coming all the way up Sunset Boulevard.

No, the pleasures of For Your Consideration, such as they are, are isolated jokes and particular performers from Guest's growing stock company. O'Hara's standout character gives the filmmakers a chance to skewer a deserving target: actresses who butcher themselves with plastic surgery in a misguided scramble to stay competitive. John Michael Higgins fires on all cylinders as an agent who's unreasonably proud of his supposed Chocktaw heritage (he also offers the deranged observation "In every actor lives a tiger, a pig, an ass, and a nightingale.")

I liked, to a point, the film's dead-on spoof of the promotional "rounds" on every kind of talk show (the Charlie Rose take-off is brilliant; the MTV kicker is lame), but the film resembles the media tour's unrelenting parade. The cast's sheer size blunts character development, with Levy effectively sidelined as another agent (for good reason: the character's not funny) and others, like the great Ricky Gervais, puttering in for a scene or two before wandering off.

Jennifer Coolidge somehow spins gold once more from her Judy Holiday routine, and Fred Willard gets off a few good lines repeating his addled, obtuse interviewer shtick. But the repetition of old comic beats contributes to the film's sagginess and the realization that Guest, for the first time, has had trouble sustaining his formula.

Parker Posey's line "We're all acting all the time" suggests a broader relevance of Hollywood's bad behavior—we all gossip, we all preen, we all compete—but Guest never digs very deep. Rather, For Your Consideration is uniformly mean-spirited, an affliction that never plagued Guest before. With the exception of the pointedly named Hack, Guest fails to make any of the film's characters even remotely likeable, including the lame-brained film director played by...Christopher Guest.

[For Groucho's interview with Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy, click here.]

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