Thursday, November 23, 2006

For Your Consideration

Be warned - The only way I can really talk about this movie is by revealing pretty much everything it has to offer in terms of plot structure, from the basic premise down to all the things that happen to the characters at the end. If you would rather not know what happens, you should skip the ninth paragraph.

This is the latest film from Christoper Guest and his troupe of talented comedic actors and actresses (Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind), which finds Guest playing the director of a movie that gets a brief whiff of Oscar buzz for one of its principals (Catherine O’Hara), a whiff of Oscar buzz that quickly steamrolls through the actors, the publicist, and one of the other actor’s agents, but never seems to affect the director or the producer (a wonderfully ditzy Jennifer Coolidge).

There comes a point in the making of the troupe’s movie, Home For Purim, when a pair of studio execs shows up on set and wants the writers to make some tweaks to the picture so that it will appeal to a broader audience. Specifically, they want the writers to tone down what they call the “Jewish-NESS” of the movie - which tells the story of a Jewish family that comes home for one last Purim celebration with their dying mother.

At this point, the film (For Your Consideration, not Home For Purim) comes off the rails completely. I suspect that it is possible that Christopher Guest (and co-writer Eugene Levy) might have done this intentionally, to illustrate the devastating effect studio executives can have when they try to dabble in the creative end of making movies.

Possible...but not terribly likely. If that was Guest’s and Levy’s intent, then they are brave souls for trying to make that kind of point - and it might even have been a commendable effort...if the movie had been funny. But it’s not.

If that was not their intent, then For Your Consideration is just astronomically bad. Catastrophically and irretrievably awful. A tedious exercise in forced laughs and wooden direction that is just embarrassing. For someone who so perfectly skewered small town theatre, dog shows, and the bygone era of folk music, Guest with this film seems simply to set up one aspect of filmmaking in Hollywood, take aim, and fire. Bang. Then another aspect, aim, and fire. And in a really robotic way.

As the last two segments of the film unfolded, which I describe below, I kept thinking to myself that it was some kind of dream sequence, that I was watching the dreams (or perhaps nightmares) of one or multiple members of the Home For Purim cast. Indeed, as the scenes went on, I kept thinking that it had to go back and pick up where it had left off with the studio executives pitching their tweaks to the writers. It just had to.

But it didn’t. If it had, the movie could perhaps have been salvaged. Up until the arrival of the studio execs, it had that absurdly likable quality that each of the three previous films had. Here, then, is the balance of the film, almost all of which I honestly beileved, for probably twenty minutes as it unfolded, had to be the stuff of truly haunted dreams.

At the end of the scene in which the studio executives bring their idea of tweaking the ethnicity of the picture to the writers, Guest fades to black. In the next scene, the title of the other movie has been changed from Home For Purim to Home For Thanksgiving. The Oscar buzz is in high gear, and the three actors whose names have been associated with the buzz are making the rounds on those celebrity tabloid shows - the ones you see on network television between the 6:30 world news and the start of prime time. After the wrap party for Home For Thanksgiving, there is another fade to black. The movie then plods mirthlessly to its abrupt conclusion by revealing the Oscar nominations (no one from Home For Thanksgiving has been nominated for anything - except perhaps for the only one of the main players who had not previously gotten any buzz, although the scene is somewhat ambiguous and is left unresolved), and then showing what happens to the actors once the air has gone out of their sails and their movie has tanked.

If there are any positives to be drawn from this mess they are these: First, Fred Willard, playing one of those celebrity tabloid hosts, almost steals the show (as he did in Best In Show, which I think is the best of this troupe’s four pictures). His casual delivery and expert sense of timing do bring the occasional laugh, but you can tell by the look in his eyes that he has some sense of how Herculean (or perhaps Sisyphean) is his task. Second, the movie is mercifully short, clocking in at around ninety minutes or so. Had it been much longer, it surely would have been one of those movies where you’re looking at your watch and wondering when it’s just going to end, already.

I may have gone into this movie with overly-inflated expectations, having thoroughly enjoyed the first three films. Going into any movie with your expectations too high can have devastating results on your opinion of the movie once you get to the end (The Da Vinci Code, The King, and Down In The Valley are examples from movies I have seen lately). At the bottom, though, I don’t really believe my expectations were too high - the buzz around this film was never as big as the buzz around, nor was the trailer as funny as the one for, A Mighty Wind. Even after giving serious thought to what Guest and Levy might have been saying by delivering a malicious stab (instead of this troupe's usual playful skewer), I think the final answer is that this movie just sucks.

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