Auto workers. Wal-Mart greeters. Lion tamers. Judging by their track record of wacky dog groomers and folk musicians, Christopher Guest and his band of improv savants could have found humor in any gig. But instead of going where few comics have gone before (say, a gymnasium in Blaine, Missouri), Guest and longtime co-writer Eugene Levy make the disappointing decision with their latest, For Your Consideration, to invest their talents in the diminishing returns of Hollywood, where satirizing the locals is so easy, the script could have been penned by a fourth-grader in Kentucky.
On the set of Home for Purim, a Southern period piece about a family of melodramatic Jews, faded actress Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) humbly makes the most of what she suspects is a crap film. Playing the terminally ill doyenne, Marilyn drips “kvell” and “mitzvah” through her honeyed vowels and collapses on cue. In her dressing room, Marilyn moans about Hollywood’s emphasis on looks and beauty, only to plead with her makeup artist to give her more blush. Meanwhile, a publicity hack (Carrie Aizley) tries desperately to get any intelligent quotes from producer Jennifer Coolidge, writers Bob Balaban and Michael McKean, or any of Marilyn’s costars (including Parker Posey, who in vintage curls is the spitting image of Katherine Hepburn). It might help if her questions showed more insight than “So, you like writing?,” but the point that Guest and Levy are trying to score is that Hollywood types are—gasp!—shallow.
If that news shocks anyone, check your pulse, because you may have been in a coma for 80 years. The yuks keep coming when For Your Consideration daringly reveals that agents are two-faced and studios get nervous about releasing films with what suit Ricky Gervais (resuscitating his Office goon) calls too much “Jewishness.” Because the cast and their lived-in ramblings are top-notch, the film racks up at least a dozen good laughs, but misses at least three times as many opportunities to score a direct hit to the Hollywood system.
Wasting this spot-on ensemble on banalities is as lame as the lameness this script pretends to expose. It’s like building a McDonald’s out of gold bricks. Back when I used to sift through submissions for the Sundance Festival, the glut of Tinseltown satires was a running joke—next to low-budget horror flicks and Very Special Dramas on incest and alcoholism, these identical lampoons were our third biggest genre. To be fair, For Your Consideration is twice as good as the best of these, but that’s still not good enough. The film fumbles for a plot and finds one when Marilyn’s dipthongs mysteriously earn her some Oscar talk. The buzz turns into a roar that sweeps the production and reveals the never-was actress to be a mouse hiding a lion’s ego. Her career reinvigorated, O’Hara’s wrenchingly hopeful Marilyn shoots her lips full of collagen, her forehead full of botox, and her ghastly face oozes through the last half of the comedy as the only balls-out comic bravery in this safe and toothless romp.