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For Your Consideration

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Waiting for Oscar: Catherine O'Hara and Harry Shearer
  • Waiting for Oscar: Catherine O'Hara and Harry Shearer

At last -- after the gentle humor of Waiting for Guffman, the myriad laughs of Best in Show, and the modest pleasures of A Mighty Wind -- writer/director Christopher Guest has made a terrible movie.

Maybe that's a little harsh. But so is For Your Consideration, the story of a movie in production and the ersatz buzz that begins to circulate when a Web site "reports" that some of the movie's stars are Oscar-worthy.

What makes Guest's other comedies so absorbing is the generous serving of humanity that nourishes his characters and accompanies their appetizing melancholy. This time, Guest seems determined to eat the hand that feeds him: He confuses plaintive with pathetic, and he asks us to laugh at his banal cinematic vaudeville.

The movie-within-his-movie is called Home for Purim, a ludicrous Southern melodrama about a Jewish family and its dying matriarch, portrayed by fictional actress Marilyn Hack, who's portrayed by real actress Catherine O'Hara. Marilyn's surname is one of many cheap jokes in Guest's unimaginative screenplay: Everyone knows Jews are funny -- we've known it for 20 or 25 years now, at least -- but Guest, who plays the director of Home for Purim, thinks it's even funnier to hear Jews say words like "kvell" and "meshuga" with a Southern accent.

It's not. The movie's incessant chatter about Purim and Hollywood is like an inside joke inside an inside joke. Normally that would be postmodern, but here it comes off like a bad term paper.

As For Your Consideration goes on, Guest broadens his parodic palette to include inane TV entertainment-news shows -- Fred Willard, too absurd even for him, is a host -- PR flakes and front-office suits. The latter here is a British financier (Ricky Gervais) who, late in the production of Home for Purim, wants to de-Jew the movie "so everyone can enjoy it." It finally gets released as Home for Thanksgiving. You can guess what happens on the morning of the Oscar nominations.

If all of this were funnier, it wouldn't matter that it's so cruel to its characters. But Guest makes the same joke over and over, as if we didn't already know that Hollywood people are desperately insecure egomaniacs. We know -- and we don't care. Why should we? They're not our friends. As long as they entertain and enlighten us, they can have all the mantras they want.

For Your Consideration rounds up the usual Guest stars -- Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge (the collagen-lipped lesbian in Best in Show) -- and occasionally puts them to amusing use out of context. Parker Posey, as an actress/comedienne/performance artist, is especially good because, at last, she stops whining and pouting to take a bite out of her role. And O'Hara, playing a woman of many faces -- most of them credible, despite the mess around her -- is divinely funny and sad. Try as he does, Guest just can't ruin her.

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