Breaking free of the mockumentary shackles that had become his exclusive domain, Christopher Guest gets back to mirthful basics with "For Your Consideration," which is less a La-La-Land satire than a glorious sketch comedy throwback. The Guest troupe, many of whom hail from the Seventies Canadian show "SCTV," as well as "Saturday Night Live," amass fresh talent with each new feature--one of the true pleasures of Guest's films is discovering additions to the gang and watching their talents blossom, such as the reliably gung-ho toothiness of Don Lake, the tremulous neuroses of Deborah Theaker, and the high-strung, bird-like mannerisms of Michael Hitchcock. Yet for an ongoing project so predicated on shucking common aesthetic and narrative practices, Guest's fake-doc form had become, well, predictable. While the actors always manage to find hilarious riffs (Fred Willard in "Best in Show") and pockets of surprising depth (Eugene Levy in "A Mighty Wind"), Guest and co-writer Levy's insistence on following a workable template from film to film (following a disparate group of regional sad-sacks on their deluded way to a climactic performance--community theater, dog show, folk revival--on which they hang all their outsized hopes) resulted in an increasing lack of spontaneity.
In "For Your Consideration," Guest and Levy remain fascinated by the ways in which people fixate on one major event to supply their lives with meaning (it's surprising they have yet to do a film on a wedding, or more appropriately, a bar mitzvah), and their vision here of such delusion is perhaps the bleakest it's ever been. Yet in the move away from the regional satire of myopic townies, Guest, Levy, and his brilliant crew of improvisers turn the camera on themselves, and what results is both a more straightforward narrative and a refreshingly anachronistic throwback to the cast's comic origins. It's more riotous and broad; many may deem the satire here as "stale," yet to do so is to deny a history of Borscht Belt comic tradition: Certainly one can't recognize the film's central movie-in-the-movie, a ridiculous indie melodrama called "Home for Purim," as reflecting current Hollywood trends, yet the egos, desperations, and compromises that the crew goes through in "For Your Consideration" are instantly recognizable. And more importantly, the characters here are both sadly human and wildly funny.
"For Your Consideration"'s satire reaches for accessibility: there's none of the insider-y smarm of "The Player." Whatever commentary there is on Hollywood's superficial being is contained within the egos of the characters--John Michael Higgins' self-proclaimed Choctaw publicity agent, constantly spouting proud Native American idioms; Jennifer Coolidge's hilariously opaque, ditz producer trying to feign authority; Guest's rotund, Harold Ramis-afro'd director instructing an actress to act "from the bottom of your womanhood." It's all very funny, not so much "on target" (what does that really mean?) as completely invested in the mannerisms and exuberance of its players.
However, the movie belongs to the brilliant Catherine O'Hara; she owns it from the first frame, in which she brushes her bundle of tawny hair while watching and trying to emulate Bette Davis in "Jezebel," to the last--a close-up as terrifying as it is laugh-out-loud. The narrative is hers; her pathos sting, her slapstick sticks, and her facial contortions tickle even as they break your heart.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot, a contributor of Film Comment, and the managing editor at The Criterion Collection.