The critical exhaltation of this week’s premiere of the abysmal Aaron Sorkin gabfest, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, established once and for all that you don’t have to be “smart” to be “smart.” By transplanting the same eye-darting rhythms and stilted cadences to a behind-the-scenes look at an L.A. Saturday Night Live-ish show, Sorkin proves that he doesn’t care to delve into other worlds so much as project the same fetishes onto everything he does. He’s the anti-Altman: there’s no sense of discovery in his work, and the world becomes one like-minded pool of scatterbrained egos.
I only bring this up because I tremble at the thought of this tired retread becoming an acclaimed award-winning show, praised for its “truth” and “timeliness” and, yes, of course, yawn, “wit” (if you don’t think that word is overused, think about how many things are actually witty…go ahead, name a few), while Christopher Guest’s upcoming For Your Consideration is accused of being old-fashioned or dated. Having heard the mixed reviews coming out of Toronto, it seems that a Guest backlash is forming, and the chosen line of attack is that it’s not relevant or parodic enough…not about Hollywood today…now! Having seen the film, I should note that it should be quite obvious that it’s not aiming for trenchant satire: For Your Consideration isn’t “smart” in that boring way that Aaron Sorkin’s mile-a-minute, dime-a-dozen dramadies are, brimming with behind-the-scenes shenanigans that are supposed to lend them instant cred. No, For Your Consideration is boldly anachronistic, a wonderfully old-fashioned comedy both in the tradition of Jewish and SCTV sketch humor. Its level of “satire” is something akin to Martin Short’s Primetime Glick—a compliment, indeed. And in its breaking away from the constraints of the mockumentary form (a post-credits crane shot (!) announces the rejection of the talking-heads-n-handheld formula, which had been slightly boxing in the Guest troupe in his previous outings), For Your Consideration frees up the tremendously talented actors to riff and improv their way through a fairly straightforward narrative.
One thing Guest hasn’t left behind is his focus on his characters’ very tangible hopes and disappointments, which are perhaps more magnified than ever this time. And talk about game, these people are on fire here: John Michael Higgins’s pompous Choctaw-idiom–spouting publicity agent, Jennifer Coolidge’s demented glamour-puss producer, Parker Posey’s neurotic actress, Don Lake & Michael Hitchcock’s “Love It/Hate It” TV film critics, Fred Willard & Jane Lynch’s monstrous Extra!-ish co-announcers—For Your Consideration scats and bops from one hilarious moment to the next. This is no claws-out, insider-y, poison-pen letter to Hollywood à la The Player: this is a wonderfully inelegant mix of verbal and slapstick highs. And its focus on the buzz-making “world wide interweb”’s (as per Higgins’s parlance) control not over the minds of the money-counters but over the hearts of the actors/filmmakers themselves, adds a significant emotional layer of identification between the critical establishment and the artists at their whim (Shyamalan could only wish to accomplish this so slyly). Representing the fragility of this bond is Catherine O’Hara, whose incredible work here (hitting just as hard as her one-liners and physical shtick hit are her moments of heart-rending pathos, often within the same scene) will probably not be recognized come awards-time due to the general bias against comedy in the Academy and elsewhere. Don’t believe the hype (something this film would definitely agree with): For Your Consideration is a treat. More on this film closer to its release.