With "For Your Consideration," director Christopher Guest hangs up his usual mockumentary format for a traditional narrative. Don't let that fool you; he is just as mercilessly acerbic as ever in his satiric aims, and the results are often uproariously funny. In 1997's "Waiting for Guffman," Guest shed light on small-town theatre and the milieu surrounding it. 2000's "Best in Show" depicted the high-stress world of dog pageants. 2003's "A Mighty Wind
" concerned a trio of folk bands from the past who reunite for a concert. Guest's latest has a title that pretty much says it all. "For Your Consideration" leaves virtually no stone unturned and no brand of Hollywood moving-and-shaking unlampooned in its view of Oscar campaigning and the tricky, sometimes ridiculous politics that go along with it.
The Los Angeles shooting of "Home for Purim," a low-budget family drama set in the 1940s American South, is proceeding along calmly and casually until a random blurb on a movie web site predicts an Oscar nomination for aging actress Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara). For a veteran of the screen who has spent her life flying under the radarher most notable past role was that of a blind prostituteMarilyn's whole world is thrown into a frenzy. Although unwilling to admit it, Marilyn finds herself obsessed with the very idea of getting an Academy Award nomination. As the Oscar buzz bleeds over to several of her fellow costars, most notably stage-turned-commercial-actor Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) and rising ingenue Callie Webb (Parker Posey), the cast find themselves thrust into the spotlight, making the rounds doing interviews and grabbing publicity wherever they can find it. Once "Home for Purim" is released and the Oscar nods are announced, however, will their built-up expectations be met?
Directed by Christopher Guest and co-written by Guest and Eugene Levy, "For Your Consideration" is their most comedically sharp feature since the marvelous "Waiting for Guffman." The smiles, chuckles and full-on guffaws rarely stop coming for 86 minutes straight as Guest and Levy approach their subjectsself-involved actors, out-to-lunch producers, clueless agents, shameless entertainment reporters, money-hungry studio execswith an insider's knowledgeability and pointed sense of humor that is irresistible. The heads of the studio, for example, show up on the set demanding that the filmmakers lighten (read: abandon) the Jewish elements in order to more widely commercialize the picture. That the characters' religion is a major part of the plot is beside the point, and before long the movie is being released as "Home for Thanksgiving." Ultimately, "For Your Consideration" cannot quite reach the heights of HBO's brilliant, prematurely canceled series "The Comeback" in terms of its uncompromising behind-the-curtain portrayal of Hollywood, but it is true-to-life details like this where the film really takes off and aspires nods of acknowledgment.
Guest admittedly finds it tough developing his lead characters to their full potential with his overly abbreviated running time. Shortness notwithstanding, what there is of the characters, and what comic material is mined, is pure dynamite. Catherine O'Hara (2004's "Surviving Christmas
") owns the picture, her equal parts hilarious and touching performance deserving of the Oscar nomination that her character of Marilyn Hack expects to receive throughout the film. O'Hara's is so on target it hurts playing a middle-aged actress clinging to hopes of fame and recognition, and willing to do whatever it takes to meet the standards of a youth-obsessed business. That she acts her last several scenes with a creepy motionless expression, her face pumped with botox and her cleavage spilling out of a skimpy skirt, is courageous on O'Hara's part and also a sad but true indictment of the lengths some people within the public eye will go to look a certain way.
Surrounding Catherine O'Hara, other standouts emerge. Parker Posey (2006's "The Oh in Ohio
") is delicious as comic-turned-serious-actress Callie Webb, who sees her role in "Home for Purim" as a stepping stone toward the stardom she has always yearned for. Harry Shearer (1999's "Dick
") gets his best role in ages as Victor Allan Miller, a fellow Oscar hopeful who has yet to escape his notoriety as the wiener in a series of hot dog television ads. As flighty producer Whitney Taylor Brown, Jennifer Coolidge (2006's "Date Movie
") is a scream for every second she is onscreen, transcending the role of a wealthy woman who pulls a lot of weight but barely has an idea what movie she is making. In a cast where not enough compliments can be made, Fred Willard (2004's "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
") and Jane Lynch (2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin
") are a picture-perfect team as Chuck Porter and Cindy Martin, the outrageously pretentious and on-the-nose hosts of an "Access Hollywood"-style program. A mere glance, eye movement or other deadpan facial expression is all any of the actors need to pull big laughs from the viewer.
As is the case with all of Christopher Guest's pictures, "For Your Consideration" shifts toward drama and sympathy in its finale. This is fine, but the tragic undercurrent suggestive of where the three leadsCallie, Victor and especially sad-sack Marilynend up darkens the bubbly tone of the first two acts. Guest does remain honest to his characters, though, and for that he should be commended. Although he makes comedies, he has shown time and again that he isn't concerned about the punchline of a joke so much as staying true to his characters and their situations. "For Your Consideration" has at least one laugh every minute, but it isn't a film that could be considered upbeat or feel-good. That Guest can allow his audience to experience all facets of his human creations, no holds barredtheir joys, their flaws, their successes, their disappointments, their hypocrisies, their painsis the sign of a true cinematic artist.