If you’re a fan of Christopher Guest’s particular brand of humor, you may want to knock the star rating on For Your Consideration up a notch, though probably not much more. I freely confess to finding Guest’s “mockumentaries” too much of the one-joke variety, so I’m not the most sympathetic viewer in the house. Still, this goof (it’s not really strong enough to qualify as a spoof, much less a satire) on Oscar fever descending on an indie production is particularly thin stuff — not in the least because movies that poke fun at Hollywood aren’t exactly rare. (Guest made one himself in 1989 — before he started concentrating on the “mockumentary” format — with The Big Picture.) Guest’s earlier “mockumentary” films at least offered the illusion of freshness because of the quirkiness of the subject matter: Amateur theatrics (Waiting for Guffman (1996)), dog shows (Best in Show (2000)) and folk music (A Mighty Wind (2003)) at least haven’t been done to death. (Amateur theatrics probably comes close.)
The subject matter, however, isn’t the only problem with For Your Consideration. The biggest flaw with the film stems from its basic unreality. Compare it to A Mighty Wind, for example, and a glaring difference is immediately apparent. In the former, it’s at least possible to believe that the folk music at hand is real — that there would actually be an audience for it. That can’t be said of the movie, Home for Purim, being made in For Your Consideration. The movie in the movie plays like a bad sketch from an old episode of The Carol Burnett Show.
The very premise of Home for Purim is too ridiculous for even the most absurd independent film. The idea of a Southern Jewish family in the 1940s gathering around a dying matriarch (Catherine O’Hara) at Purim where the ailing mother has to confront her estranged daughter’s (Parker Posey) lesbianism sounds more like a spoof of a bad feel-good movie than an actual film that might generate Oscar buzz (or even get made). What we see of it is even worse, and seems largely grounded in the belief that it’s hysterically funny to hear exclamations like “Oy gevalt!” delivered in a Southern accent. And even if this were funny, it torpedoes itself because we’re supposed to buy Home for Purim as a serious drama that could win an Oscar. There’s simply nothing real to hold onto.
Eschewing the pseudo-documentary form of his earlier films (though you’ll hardly notice the difference), Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy have stitched together a very thin storyline that works in an almost identical manner to their standard format. Indeed, there’s less dramatic tension than usual since For Your Consideration meanders its way to an obviously predetermined conclusion with no real payoff.
This would matter less if the jokes were all that funny or original, but for the most part they aren’t — and a lot of the material feels like it’s been sitting around for ages. Ten or 15 years ago I might have bought into the idea that nearly the entire cast and crew of Home for Purim had no clue about the Internet, but it’s too much of a stretch in 2006. That the gags on the topic run along the lines of questions like, “That’s the one with e-mail?” and calling it “the World Wide Interweb” doesn’t exactly help matters.
The Hollywood satire is also old hat. Some of it dates back to the 1930 Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman play Once in a Lifetime. Other jokes — like Harry Shearer’s greatest fame resulting from dressing up as a hot dog for a series of TV commercials — are just obvious and milked dry long before the movie drops them. Even when For Your Consideration scores, it’s only half a victory. Jane Lynch hits the bull’s-eye with her impersonation of an entertainment show host, but her performance sits next to Fred Willard’s too over-the-top one as her co-host. There are a few laughs scattered throughout the film, but all in all it feels like a lot of talented folks just going through the motions. Rated PG-13 for sexual references and brief language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke