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For Your Consideration   C

Warner Independent Pictures / Shangri-La Entertainment

Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Christopher Guest
Writers: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy
Cast: Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard.

Review by Rob Vaux

Christopher Guest has this routine down to a science by now. His satirical jabs work because they utilize the same dependable cast and operate under the same basic rules, and yet retain enough flexibility to feel new each time. He also has a knack for translating the foolish foibles of various obscure subcultures (dog lovers, folk musicians, etc.) into broader human comedy, allowing us to recognize our own shortcomings in their silly fixations. But while For Your Consideration has many of the same elements that have worked so well for him in the past, they don't quite come together this time. Despite some well-earned smiles and another cluster of scene-stealing performances, the final equation feels like an opportunity missed.

Some of the blame rests on his chosen subject: show business in general, and specifically the idiocy surrounding awards season. Guest and his colleagues were purportedly inspired when "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" -- one of the songs from A Mighty Wind -- earned an Oscar nomination. Certainly, the surreal absurdity accompanying the Academy Awards must have made for some unique experiences. And Hollywood's skewed self-importance during that period -- in which daring, challenging work is shoved out of the way for ponderously gutless examples of feel-good hokum -- is due for a good pasting. But those issues aside, a number of films have already exacted their pound of flesh in that department. Indeed, satirizing the filmmaking process is almost a genre in and of itself, leaving far less room for Guest and his merry band of pranksters to maneuver. Earlier works like Best in Show had the advantage of novelty. For Your Consideration lacks such distinction, forcing it to find new veins in a deeply tapped mine.

Still, never let it be said that they didn't give it a try. The centerpiece this time is Home for Purim, a spot-on bit of cinematic turgidity being filmed in some nameless Southern California back lot. Though incomplete (and indeed still subject to tweaking from clueless studio executives), it's receiving heavy award buzz -- first for no-nonsense leading lady Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), then for her anything-as-long-as-it-pays co-star Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), and finally for brittle secondary lead Callie Webb (Parker Posey). Guest has great fun mocking the way various hangers-on suddenly start circling when word get around, as well as the pathetic acorns at the heart of such distorted PR oaks. The buzz first comes from the Internet -- bastion of reliable news -- which no one on set seems to understand but everyone accepts as ironclad gospel. Those rumblings soon morph into trade-mag articles and TV interviews, many perpetrated by the obtuse co-hosts of an idiotic Entertainment Tonight clone (Jane Lynch and Fred Willard, both in top form). The effect renders life for the pertinent actors a bizarre Wonderland of talk shows, dinner parties, and phony emotions designed to snag a prize none of them thought they wanted in the first place.

The jibes alternate between the ridiculous apparatus perpetuating such foolishness, and Home for Purim itself, whose self-important gravitas is fueled by its stereotypically flaky cast and crew. As with previous Guest films, one actor stands out amid the uniformly excellent performances. This time around, it's O'Hara, whose Marilyn follows a wicked arc from grounded movie veteran to tarted-up egomaniac in the glaring light of Academy attention. The remainder of Guest's regulars -- Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge, etc. -- have the drill down pat, and their well-oiled improvisations produce a bevy of solid laughs. The difficulty is that their target feels much staler this time. The pokes and digs come too easily, worn thin by earlier Tinseltown exposes and offering nothing to distinguish themselves from the pack. Petty rivalries, clueless moneymen, an agent (Levy) who keeps wheedling his client into supremely bad projects... all of it was stale a half century ago, when Gloria Swanson planted the definitive knife right where For Your Consideration is trying to reach.

The awards angle has some freshness to it -- and anyone who's ever watched the Oscars knows just how broad and inviting a target it can be. But while the buildup of the nomination process is righteously smacked, Guest inexplicably refrains from including the natural third act. We see nothing of the awards themselves: the film skips over it entirely. No trawl down the red carpet, no silly manifestos from grandstanding stars, not a J.Lo or Geena Davis in sight to perpetrate crimes against the fashion gods. Every year, the AMPAA lays out a glorious feast just begging to be deflated -- the natural climax to an endeavor like this -- and yet Guest chooses to completely ignore it, halting the film's modest goodwill in its tracks. Indeed, For Your Consideration doesn't end so much as stop, leaving puzzled viewers to wonder if a reel got lost up in the projection booth.

Guest staked out this particular comedic turf long ago, and while straying from it was never part of his agenda, he always managed to make the most out of each opportunity. Here, he just can't find the pulse to assert himself, relying too much on the expected and predictable to give it the necessary bite. His established pattern will doubtless survive For Your Consideration, and may bloom again should the right target appear. For now, however, it's clear that he needs to range farther afield to find a sustainable subject. Too many people already know what's wrong with this one, and Guest, as iconoclastic as he can sometimes be, never quite justifies why he should join that crowd.

Review published 11.17.2006.

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