For Your Consideration

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/17/06 01:04:27

"Funny But Not Quite Award-Worthy"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“For Your Consideration” is a film with a lot of big laughs, a sparkling cast and a number of smart and trenchant observations about both the inner workings of contemporary Hollywood and the innate desire of all people to be told by others that they are good and smart and talented, preferably through the medium of a gaudy statuette. Under normal circumstances, these factors would be more than enough to make it a must-see but the problem is that it has been directed by Christopher Guest–the man behind such hilarious and beloved comedies as “Waiting For Guffman,” “Best In Show” and “A Mighty Wind”–and it just doesn’t quite compare to those earlier gems. Like Pixar, he has set his personal standard so high over the years that we have come, perhaps unfairly, to expect pure genius with every film and when he makes a film that doesn’t quite live up to that standard (as Pixar did earlier this year with “Cars”), it feels like more of a bummer than sitting through an ordinary bad comedy. While “For Your Consideration” is better than “Cars”–indeed, it is one of the funniest films of the year–I am guessing that even some of Guest’s most loyal fans are going to walk away from this one feeling vaguely disappointed that this one just isn’t quite up to snuff.

“For Your Consideration” places us in the middle of the production of “Home For Purim,” the kind of agonizingly earnest independent film that seems destined to play only at festivals that you have never heard of and on cable channels to which you don’t subscribe. The screenplay appears to be a conglomeration of every indie film you’ve ever seen about people coming to terms with things linked together with random chunks of Hebrew that seem especially out-of-place in a drama set in the Deep South during the 1940's. The director, Jay Berman (Guest), is a clueless dope who seems to have learned everything about what a director is supposed to look and sound like but precious little about what they actually do–his response when someone poses a legitimate question is to start yammering endlessly until everyone forgets what they were talking about in the first place. The cast is a disparate mix that includes Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), a once-promising actress who never quite made it in the business, Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), a serious thespian who is nevertheless best-known for his work as a talking wiener in a series of hot-dog commercials, Callie Webb(Parker Posey), an “edgy” comedienne (best know for the one-woman show “No Penis Intended”) trying to expand her range, Mary Pat Hooligan (Rachel Harris), an Method-y ingenue who is constantly pondering her motivation and Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan), the newcomer who is content to spend his time on-set playing along with everyone else and his time off-set playing along with . Nearly lost in all the madness are Lane Iverson (Michael McKean) and Philip Koontz (Bob Balaban), the all-but-ignored guys who actually wrote the screenplay in the first place.

Everything changes one day when an anonymous reporter from an Internet web site makes an off-hand remark that Marilyn’s work in the film is worthy of an Oscar nomination. Before long, Victor and Callie are being mentioned as potential nominees as well and the increasing buzz surrounding the film attracts the attention of Chuck Porter (Fred Willard) and Cindy Martin (Jane Lynch), the hosts of an entertainment show not a million miles removed from the likes of “Access Hollywood.” The people behind the film–producer Whitney Taylor Brown, publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins) and sleazy agent Morley Orfkin (Eugene Levy)–try to figure out ways to exploit this news to their advantage. The head of the studio (Ricky Gervais) is thrilled that a film once perceived as being a write-off could actually become a hit–of course, this doesn’t stop him from thinking of ways to “broaden the appeal” of the film, such as toning down the Jewish stuff and renaming it “Home For Thanksgiving.” Victor and Callie react in expected ways–both claim that the award talk hasn’t fazed them at all but Victor dreams of using the possible nomination as a way out of the commercial ghetto for good while Callie immediately decides to break up with Brian because he doesn’t appear to be as excited for her as she is pretending not to be. For Marilyn, on the other hand, it goes deeper than that–she needs this nomination in order to justify her entire career and throws herself into the pursuit of it (including a Botox treatment or twelve that gives her a disconcerting resemblance to a “Monster”-era Charlize Theron) with such fury and grim determination that it is impossible to determine whether she will become more terrifying with the nomination or without.

A lot of what transpires makes for very funny stuff but as “For Your Consideration” progresses, you get the sense that Guest is more or less coasting this time around. Although he and co-writer Levy (they come up with the basic outline and the actors then improvise around it) have shaken things up a little bit by eschewing the faux-documentary narrative of their previous efforts for a more traditional storyline (although they make sure to include enough scenes of people being interviewed on-camera to make the transition a smooth one), the simple fact of the matter is that a film poking fun at pretentious filmmakers, ambitious actors and clueless studio weasels is hardly the most original conceit–even Guest himself has explored similar material before in his first directorial effort, the underrated “The Big Picture”–and while individual lines may be hilarious (one person describes the Oscars as being “the backbone of an industry not known for having a backbone), they don’t exactly transcend the familiarity of the premise. The film also lacks the focus of Guest’s earlier work. In those films, we were laughing at the proceedings but we actually found ourselves caring about whether or not Guffman would show up at the play, who would win the dog show or if the burned-out folkie would overcome his demons in time for the big concert. “For Your Consideration” lacks that emotional core as it builds to a conclusion that it meant to be bittersweet and ironic and might have been if the surprise twist involving the nominations wasn’t so blatantly obvious.

Another problem this time around is that Guest seems to have become a victim of his own success–his films have become so popular within the industry that people are clamoring to be in them and his casts have begun to swell in an effort to fit everyone in. This time around, there are so many people to account for (I notice that I haven’t even mentioned the contributions of Ed Begley Jr. as a fey makeup man, Jim Piddock as the incredulous assistant director, Richard Kind and Sandra Oh as the marketing people charged with selling the seemingly unsellable “Home For Purim” to the masses and Don Lake and Michael Hitchcock as a pair of feuding film critics) that they are barely introduced before they get shuttled off in the rush to bring on the next person. Ironically, the character that suffers the most from this treatment is the one played by Guest himself–his pretentious dweeb of a director is so hilarious in his hackiness that you want to see more of him as Oscar fever begins to sweep his film despite his best efforts. I’m guessing that, as with Guest’s other films, there is a lot of nifty footage sitting on a cutting room floor somewhere (you could do an entire movie on the unspoken relationship between the dopey entertainment show host and the co-host who can barely disguise her contempt for her partner) and I hope that Guest gives us a glimpse of it on the eventual DVD.

That said, most people will only begin to realize the flaws in “For Your Consideration” in hindsight because they will be too busy laughing during the film itself to notice. While I wish that the scenes of “Home For Purim” that we see could have been given a different visual look from the rest of the film, they will strike a chord of recognition with anyone who has sat through their share of achingly pretentious indie melodramas and the various interview segments, in which the actors struggle in the face of one inane question after another, also ring true to real life. The sequence in which the marketing people unveil their various poster concepts–all of which have been created to make it look like a sprightly comedy. The joke about the writers never being shunted to the side has a wonderful payoff with a situation in which they still can’t get a word in edgewise. All of the performers, many of whom have become Guest’s unofficial stock company, get their moment to shine and there is a real joy in seeing them bounce off of each other with such giddy energy that you can almost see the sparks flying as they latch into a particularly inspired comedic groove. As usual, most of the biggest laughs come courtesy of Fred Willard, who once again refines the craft of screen buffoonery into a high art. Yeah, it is basically the same part that he played in “Best of Show”–the clueless commentator who doesn’t let his utter lack of knowledge of whatever the subject of hand is prevent him from chiming in with the daftest non-sequitur imaginable–but when someone has mastered this type of role in the way that Willard has, you can hardly blame Guest for going back to this particular well once again.

The best reason to see “For Your Consideration,” however, is the frankly amazing central performance by Catherine O’Hara as Marilyn Hack. Although she is very funny throughout, she brings a serious subtext to the role that transforms it from a mere caricature of a Sally Kirkland type into a full-blooded and fully sympathetic character. Witness the early scenes in which she deals with a security guard who only seems to recognize her from movies that she hasn’t been in and when she awkwardly tries to get someone to look up the Internet rumor about her performance for her–she infuses these moments with a subtle kind of pathos and sympathy that makes the character a lot more interesting than if she were just being played for laughs throughout. It is such a deft and nuanced performance, in fact, that I would suggest that it was award-worthy work but considering the subject at hand, it might seem as if I was just trying to be ironic. Besides, as one character ruefully remarks towards the end, “It was an honor just to almost be nominated.”

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