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Entries in For Your Consideration [2006] (1)

Thursday
Dec082011

For Your Consideration (2006)

It's a Horror Just to Be Nominated

For Your Consideration isn't very funny. Generally, people don't like to hear that when having comedies recommended to them, and I'll cop to being conflicted about the film. What director Christopher Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy lack in consistent laugh-out-loud moments, they make up for in a few astute character studies and observations about what Hollywood does to interesting ideas.

I'm a sucker for movies about making movies. Maybe it's because I spend so much time writing about them instead of making them that I still have the childish naivete to view filmmaking as more than just a job. Indeed, during the scene where Parker Posey delivers a monologue while staring out a window, I was fascinated by the guy turning on the sprinkler just off-camera to create the illusion of rain against the glass. This is to say that if you come to this picture expecting a laugh riot and have no real interest in celebrity sausage-making, as it were, you may be disappointed.

Whereas Guest's early films focused on the big-time ambitions of small-time people, his recent movies (A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration), have taken an insider's approach to show business that softens the blow of his satirical targets. I'm one of the few people who considers A Mighty Wind a mixed-tone misstep, a case of Guest wanting to shoehorn a touching love story into a farce instead of letting the audience develop their own affections for his ridiculous characters. And in this film, he and Levy almost run off the rails by giving Catherine O'Hara's character too much soul at the outset.

She plays Marilyn Hack, an acting veteran whose latest role sees her as a dying Jewish mother in the deep South during World War II. The fake film-within-the-film, Home for Purim, is a terrible melodrama in which the characters' hick accents are punctuated by neurotic, Yiddish outbursts.  Marilyn's co-star, Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) plays the concerned husband welcoming home their sailor son (Christopher Moynihan) and servicewoman daughter (Posey)--along with her new lesbian lover (Rachael Harris). This sounds more hilarious than it actually is, mostly due to Guest and Levy's writing to the sadness in Marilyn's life rather than the comedy.

The first half hour of For Your Consideration, in fact, aims wide in a way that most of Guest's other films do not. Many of the alleged laughs come from seeing actors who have been great in Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman simply appear in funny costumes and wigs. The screenplay is obviously just a road map for improv--as is often the case with these writers--and that's a real problem here. It's really easy to parody bloviating, clueless Hollywood types, but thanks to the advent of reality TV and entertainment programs, we see enough silly star behavior to know that the joke is not often nearly as funny as the truth. For too long, the film plods noisily along in search of a voice.

Fortunately, the filmmakers find that voice not long after the plot kicks in. A lighting engineer (Jim Piddock) tells a depressed Marilyn that he'd read an Internet rumor about her being nominated for an Oscar. This sets off a chain reaction with agents, producers, publicists, and the other actors in which everyone scrambles to promote themselves and the film as a dark-horse contender. The movie goes into overdrive the moment Jane Lynch and Fred Willard pop up as the vapid, cruel hosts of an Entertainment Tonight-style gossip show; they herald Marilyn's transformation from a legit, in-it-for-the-craft actress into a ditzy, Botox-ed fame whore.

In the second and third acts, Guest and Levy play to their strengths, turning characters who thought they were already in the industry into fodder for a sinister machine they could barely comprehend before they got snared in its spotlight. We see the actors struggle to bite their tongues and retain their dignity as smarmy studio head Martin Gibb (Ricky Gervais) swoops in with notes on how to make the film more palatable to wider audiences and academy voters (the biggest being a new title: Home for Thanksgiving).

Before long, the geriatric Victor is wearing hipster clothes and dancing on a hip-hop show, and Posey's character, Callie, is doing morning zoo radio interviews in which she has to explain why her film is worth seeing, despite its lack of nudity. Oddly, when the script quits telling us to feel sorry for Marilyn and Victor and instead shows us the depth of their pathos as they navigate this glitzy minefield, For Your Consideration generates the most good will and compassion towards them. The last few scenes have an extremely sad undercurrent, even as Victor headlines an infomercial for "Hula Balls".

As I said before, I'm a sucker for sound stage movies. I love seeing characters walk and talk about important issues while astronauts and showgirls scurry in the background. This film works best when it's being honest about the entertainment business and the people who keep it going. Half the characters are spot-on impressions of star-gazing talking heads, and half are caricatures we've seen a hundred times (Levy plays Victor's carb-pounding, nebbishy agent; Ed Begley Jr. shows up as a flamboyant makeup artist whose "wife" is never around). I laughed a handful of times, but was more caught up in the story of how a nothing little film became a big, buzzing deal.

I'm curious to see if Guest and Levy continue their trend away from smart comedies with big, consistent laughs. I appreciate their branching out, and hope that they find the perfect balance of story, performance, comedy, and heart someday. This feels like a transitional film. Like Mariln Hack, For Your Consideration is not great, but there is greatness in it.