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Monday, November 06, 2006


ModFab On...For Your Consideration

Starring: Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Harry Shearer, Larry Miller, Jennifer Coolidge and Ricky Gervais
Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy
Directed by Christopher Guest
PG-13 for sexual references and brief language

WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS. In The Wizard of Oz, we do indeed go to visit Oz. In Gone With the Wind, we land at Tara and watch as it burns. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we are enticed with the wonders promised inside Wonka's fantasy land. But in FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, Christopher Guest's latest improvised comedy about another such fantastical place – The Academy Awards – we never travel to the mythical final destination. In fact, we never get anywhere close, robbing the film of its logical and most pointed conclusion. But it's merely one disappointment among many in this phoned-in, strained comedy.

Guest and his well-known ensemble's best work comically shreds the pretentious American obsessions of fame and celebrity, taking apart oddities like folk music (A Mighty Wind), pet competitions (Best in Show) and theatrical ambition (Waiting for Guffman). Skewering the national obsession with awards and self-congratulation is a brilliant next step for this talented group, packed as it is with sacred cows and paper tigers of all kinds. Sadly, however, For Your Consideration feels under-cooked, with easy potshots at an indulgent Hollywood studio system and a pervasively dull atmosphere.

Did the ensemble feel the subject was either beneath them, or merely boring? Whatever the case, they insured it was both. The film-within-a-film is called Home For Purim, a Tennessee Williams-meets-Mort-Sahl sendup starring aging bit player Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara). The Jewish/Southern jokes land with thuds during the exposition, where we meet the rest of the cast and the crew (including actors Harry Shearer and Parker Posey, fey makeup artist Ed Begley Jr., plumped producer Jennifer Coolidge, and idiot publicist John Michael Higgins). When a rumor begins floating around the set that Hack has been mentioned as an Oscar contender on the internet, a flurry of self-aggrandizing activity ensues. Home For Purim gains (inexplicable) awards race traction, with spots on an "Access Hollywood"-like TV show and a terrifying facelift for Hack. And don't even ask about the nomination announcement. One imagines that Meryl Streep takes things a little more in stride than Ms. Hack.

There's a pungent whiff of bitterness to For Your Consideration, which may be intentional; making movies is a harsh business, and the normal Guest-and-Company playfulness might have been too cartoonish. Or it may be that Guest's films have been snubbed by Oscar voters in the past, and this is merely payback. But the downcast nature of the piece infuses even the best comic moments with an unsatisfying lack of focus. There is almost no serious attempt at character development (at just 88 minutes and with over a dozen major characters, everyone gets short shrift), which makes it hard to engage emotionally with their triumphs and defeats. The thin characterizations are especially poignant in the case of O'Hara; the first of these movies that is unquestionably a vehicle for her, the material lets her down time and time again. As a newcomer to the company, Ricky Gervais (The Office) has to fill his time as a studio executive with some of the most hackneyed lines in movie history.

But the major problem may be Guest's own sense of inconsequence. In interviews, he has expressed a distaste for the movie industry's annual fete; it may, therefore, be unsurprising that For Your Consideration tends to look down on those who do enjoy the Oscar race, in effect snubbing those who do the snubbing. No one is suggesting that this be Hotel Rwanda or anything, but it is important to treat your own characters with respect, even if they are idiots (a point Guest himself proved marvelously with Corky St. Clair in Guffman). The question in not really whether we will consider For Your Consideration; it is whether they have anything worth saying in the first place.



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