Friday, November 17, 2006

For Your Consideration - Movie Review

For Your Consideration 2006

There is one reason to run out and see the latest “Mockumentary” from the now legendary Christopher Guest troupe of players. Catherine O’Hara. While many know her face, or might recognize her name, or are one of the small but faithful fans of the former SCTV alum whose mere presence in one of Guest’s flicks always guarantees a good time – here she is given the best role of her career and she shines brilliantly.

For the second time in film history, it is more than likely that an actress will be nominated for an Oscar for portraying an actress who desperately wants to win an Oscar! It happened once before with the divine Dame Maggie Smith actually winning the little bald Gold man for her hilarious turn in the screen adaptation of Neil Simon’s omnibus “California Suite” back in 1978. We would like to feel that the Academy cannot possibly ignore Miss O’Hara’s stellar turn in “For Your Consideration”, but unlikelier things have happened. (We’ll keep our fingers crossed.)

Sadly, the remainder of the film is an uneven hodgepodge of stale jokes and contrived stereotypes that more than often misses the comic mark. Or rather, it fails to match the peerless Miss O’Hara who turns out all the stops in her delicious performance.

Since movies began, filmmakers have been enthralled with examining the treacherous backstory of making movies and the pitfalls of stardom. From such delightful classics as King Vidor’s “Show People”, George Cukor’s “What Price Hollywood?”, Preston Sturges brilliant “Sullivan’s Travels, to the three versions of “A Star is Born” to the Film Noir gothic glory of Billy Wilder’sSunset Blvd.” Famed directors such as Fellini, Godard, Fassbinder and Woody Allen have all cast a jaundiced lens towards the mythic art of moviemaking.

In using the art of filmmaking as a bitter comedy of the foibles of fame and stardom, Christopher Guest follows Blake Edwards in his turgid black comedyS.O.B.” featuring the debut of Julie Andrews’s naked breasts as the ultimate metaphor for the sacrifice actors are required to give to their craft for the cost of a successful film. Already this year, we had the delightfully twisted “Tristram Shandy . . .” courtesy of Michael Winterbottom, backbiting the hand the feeds him to reveal the battle of egos necessary to pull off a major motion picture in the modern age of risky financial endeavors.

The main problem with “For Your Consideration” is that it is simply not that funny. It's pleasant in a notch above sitcom level. It certainly skips along at a brisk pace. But rarely did the smile on our face turn into an out and out laugh. Guest & Co. have always seemed most successful in their attempts at examining niche worlds that most of us would have little previous knowledge of, including the filmmakers themselves. Their “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind” were wonderfully comic romps through the less than mainstream worlds of competitive dog shows and 1960s folk singers.

For Your Consideration” at times seems to retread the amateur theatrics that was the domain of their earlier work on “Waiting for Guffman”. And herein lays our problems with their latest work. Just as that earlier film seemed to be at times such an “in-joke” to the actual players, the finished product was simply not as funny as their later successes.

For in examining the worlds of dog shows and folk singing, the players themselves seemed to be taken out of their own vocation enough to flesh out wholly distinct characters that seemed to have walked out of a traveling circus of Diane Arbus portraits. They were larger than life personalities that were curiously grounded in the quirky realism of types found outside the troupe’s normal range.

By lampooning actors who fall prey to their own desires of fame and adoration, where does one draw the line between actor and character? Is Catherine O’Hara the closet diva she portrays in “For Your Consideration”? God, we hope not. For it would not only ruin our enjoyment of her performance, it borders on psychosis.

And more importantly, for this flick to make sense shouldn’t the film within the film be less of a cartoon throwback to bad “B” Republic pics? The very broad comedic portrayal by Guest as a fourth string director butchering an independent film script entitled “Home for Purim” is three skips away from the worst baggy pants comic. Which is our main issue with the film. O’Hara’s work seems grounded in a reality while the rest of the proceedings seem to be occurring in a sequel to Mel Brooks’Silent Movie”. Thankfully, other performers strike the mark alongside the bravura turn by O’Hara.

Parker Posey, who has never been one of our favorites (Although we did enjoy her delightfully hammy turn in this year’s “Superman Returns”) is absolutely spot on as the “serious” actress attempting her best to maintain her craft under the trying circumstances. Playing the lesbian daughter within the troubled “Purim” shoot, she resembles a young Katharine Hepburn in appearance and a young Susan Hayward in overarching earnestness. When the internet rumors begin to appear heralding O’Hara’s chances for an Oscar nomination, Parker attempts to take it in stride until the Awards hooplah seizes her in a flurry of unexpected hubris.

And while their work may not be the subtlest onboard, Jane Lynch and Fred Willard have a wicked gleam in their eyes skewering “Entertainment Tonight” type hosts. Although we venture to guess that this is a testament to their comic brilliance in grounding any character no matter how broadly played. Lynch in particular is a hoot eschewing the aged wooden frozen smile of a Mary Hart type.

And God bless Michael McKean and Bob Balaban for maintaining their equilibrium as the writers of “Home for Purim” who watch hopelessly as their vision is taken away from them, battered about and ultimately whitewashed in order to secure a wider audience once the Oscar buzz starts to overtake the proceedings.

A special nod must also go to Ricky Gervais, that British genius who fits perfectly into the seasoned troupe as the studio executive whose fear of the film being to “Jewish” for popular appeal scores some of the biggest laughs.

But, in the final analysis, this film belongs to Catherine O’Hara. Her final transformation into a Sally Kirkland type who so desperately wants to hold the film equivalent of the Holy Grail, she succumbs to her greatest fears. When the fateful early morning arrives wherein all of Hollywood holds their collective breaths to hear the Oscar nominees, O’Hara is a marvel to watch. We felt as if we were indeed sneaking a peek into the lives of so many actresses whose egos let themselves lose their way down Hollywood Boulevard.

O’Hara and Posey deserve a better film than this for their comic talents. The fact that both of them not only rise above the material but actually manage to compose fully rounded characters, four of them actually is wonderful to behold. We would actually adore it if both actresses names were called out one cold winter morning early next year, and what a fitting tribute to their skill if they were. Bless you all!

Directed by Christopher Guest
Written by Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy

Catherine O’Hara as Marilyn Hack
Harry Shearer as Victor Allan Miller
Parker Posey as Callie Webb
Christopher Guest as Jay Berman
Eugene Levy as Morley Orfkin
Fred Willard as Chuck Porter
Jane Lynch as Cindy Martin
Michael McKean as Lane Iverson
Bob Balaban as Philip Koontz
Ricky Gervais as Martin Gibb
Larry Miller as Syd Finkleman
Ed Begley Jr. as Sandy Lane
Christopher Moynihan as Brian Chubb
John Michael Higgins as Corey Taft
Jim Piddock as Simon Whitset
Jennifer Coolidge as Whitney Taylor Brown
Jordan Black as Lincoln
Paul Dooley as “Paper Badge” Sergeant
John Krasinski as “Paper Badge” Officer
Don Lake as Ben Lilly
Michael Hitchcock as David van Zyverden
Rachael Harris as Mary Pat Hooligan
Sandra Oh as Marketing Person #1
Richard Kind as Marketing Person #2
Craig Bierko as Talk Show Host

Cinematography by Roberto Schaefer
Film Editing by Robert Leighton
Original Music by Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy
Costume Design by Durinda Wood
Production Design by Joseph T. Garrity
Art Direction by Pat Tagliaferro
Set Decoration by Dena Roth



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