Deborah Ross

The case for Guest

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As far as I can tell, Christopher Guest’s latest film, For Your Consideration, pretty much bombed in America, which must be a recommendation, surely. Listen, I’m only kidding. I have nothing against America. Sometimes, I even think it’s quite the nicest country anyone ever stole and, as for Americans, utterly, utterly charming. Quite fat and quite stupid and always waddling off to amusement parks — I’m not busy today; I know, I’ll ask someone to strap me upside-down and spin me around until I puke — but aside from that, utterly, utterly charming.

Anyway, I suppose whether you will like this film depends largely on whether you like Guest’s loose, fond style of improvised comedy or not, which I accept may not be to everyone’s taste, although, if it’s not to your taste, you may wish to ask yourself this: do I actually have any taste? Guest’s films include This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind; all not just brilliantly inventive and brilliantly funny, but also richly nuanced, slow-burning character studies. Mostly, these characters are deluded losers who imagine they are going to be winners any moment now. This gap between who they are and what they think they are is where much of the comedy is mined, but as it is always done with such affection it never seems too cruel somehow. Plus, if it weren’t for Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, how would we ever have known about ‘Volume 11’? I rest my case.

And this? Yes, For Your Consideration is pretty much more of the same. True, it’s straight narrative rather than mockumentary, but aside from that it is more of the same, but that’s OK, isn’t it? Why would you quarrel with that? Did anyone ever say to Jane Austen: ‘Come on, Jane, show us what else you can do. Give us a thriller.’ Did anyone say to Einstein: ‘Enough with the science, already. Let’s see if you can dance.’ Again, I rest my case, but I shan’t be resting any more today. I’ve only got a few cases left now and feel I should save them for special occasions.

So, what do we have here? Well, Catherine O’Hara and Harry Shearer play Marilyn Hack and Victor Allan Miller, two veteran actors who are more never-beens than has-beens (Victor is most famous for playing a foot-long kosher frankfurter in a TV commercial) and are playing the leads in low-budget, period melodrama, Home for Purim, which appears to be a sort of southern, Jewish Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Typical line: ‘Is that you, Rachel, or am I going meshuga?’ But, then, suddenly, and somewhat inexplicably, a rumour on the ‘world wide interweb’ kicks off an Oscar buzz, and the cast and crew all get just so madly excited.

Look, I’m not saying this film is perfect. Hollywood satires are hardly new, after all. And Ricky Gervais as the studio boss — ‘all I’m asking is that you tone down the in-yer-face-Jewishness’— looks as if he’s been airlifted in from another movie. Plus, you may well find yourself asking: why would anyone be making such a desperate film, anyway, and how could it ever generate an Oscar buzz? Also, it does all rather peter out at the end. But I’m not sure any of that bothers me terribly. Maybe I’m too much of a Guestophile to allow it. On the other hand, there is so much to enjoy, why make life difficult?

Jennifer Coolidge, for example, is totally hilarious as the diaper heiress turned clueless producer who speaks only in exquisite non-sequiturs, while Eugene Levy (also Guest’s co-writer) plays an agent whose greatest joy appears to be barking bad news at his clients: ‘Nobody wants you. You’re cold toast.’ He also has great eyebrows. And as for Catherine O’Hara, well. Aside from what it must take for a good actress to play a lousy one — a bit like asking Martin Amis to write a Jackie Collins novel, I imagine — her transformation at the end is so astonishing I swear that if you are the kind of EVIL NITWIT who snacks at the cinema, you will choke on your popcorn and spit into your Coke (go choke and spit and eat your snacks elsewhere. Have you no manners? Are you American?). This film has a good pop at everything: entertainment television, artsy-fartsy television, electronic press kits, the PR industry, and it does draw blood. One character refers to the Oscars as ‘the backbone of an industry not known for having a backbone’. That seems pretty accurate to me.

Look, while For Your Consideration may not be Guest’s best film (that would have to be Spinal Tap, or maybe Waiting for Guffman), as Guest not at his best is better than most, you’d be a fool to miss this. Indeed, as one of the characters himself says: ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because then...then...you’ll get a wet, crippled baby!’ I rest my... damn, I’m all out.