Wednesday, November 22, 2006

For Your Consideration (Guest, 2006)

In one of the most shocking developments of the cinematic season, I am grieved to report that the most dependable and likable comedic ensemble in film today has lined up a seemingly unmissable target from point blank range and then forgotten the ammunition. All of the critical players from Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind are back and director Christopher Guest has made a wise addition in The Office’s Ricky Gervais. The subject matter concerned the hype and overall inanity of Hollywood’s award season and what happens to the production of a film once the buzz starts to build. Best of all, the film has been structured to provide a deserving showcase for the comedic gifts of Catherine O’Hara, consistently one of the funniest actors around. Sounds promising enough so far, yes? So wha’ happened?

The problem seems to stem from Guest’s decision to veer away from the documentary structure that has served the team well in their past projects, allowing the ensemble to work off of each other and improvise moments of unpredictable magic. While Guest’s desire and willingness to attempt something new is to be commended, he has unfortunately settled upon a film that is in an awkward limbo between his past work and something more conventional. In interviews supporting the film, Guest and his co-writer, Eugene Levy, have boasted that their ensemble works without rehearsal, simply working from meticulous bios that have been constructed for each character. This is all well and good when trying to simulate the feeling of a documentary where the subjects would naturally be speaking off the cuff. However, Guest and Levy have dropped the documentary trappings and neglected to supply their ensemble with a legitimate script or even a fruitful sequence of events. Consequently, For Your Consideration plays out like a depressing shadow of a film that could have been. The jokes never rise above the level of a basic premise that isn’t terribly funny to begin with. The director’s too Jewish! The veteran actor has to do demeaning commercials! The wealthy producer doesn’t know anything about film! Nobody’s respecting the writers’ script! The media asks vacant questions! It’s possible to see how employing these stereotypes might have been a possible starting point for Guest and company to supply amusing riffs. But sadly, the characterizations never progress past the first dimension. Whole scenes go by and we not only wonder about their purpose – we wonder where the punchline was supposed to be. One thing becomes abundantly clear: either the ensemble needs to return to the documentary format and find a way to inject new energy (Ricky Gervais was a good step), or they need to put the work into a polished script and – horror of horrors – take the time to rehearse.

It would have made a great story: Catherine O’Hara playing an aging actress whose fictional performance generates Oscar buzz actually generating real-life Oscar buzz and earning a long-deserved nomination. But alas, this outcome is not likely to come to pass, as For Your Consideration paradoxically gives O’Hara far less to do than her supporting roles in previous films. I will not spoil her character’s fate out of basic respect; however, if I spoiled it for you, you would likely think that I must have been leaving something out – that her character arc couldn’t possibly be so incredibly flimsy. Unfortunately, it is. And unfortunately, this is the rule with For Your Consideration rather than the exception. Characters either make the most obvious change that you could conceive, don’t change at all, or disappear completely. It is with astonishment that we see the closing credits begin, because we are still waiting for the film to begin. The greatest indignity of all is that Guest and company have produced a film that is even more vacant and ill-conceived than the Oscar bait films they have attempted to skewer.



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