An independently produced film, “Home for Purim”, set in the American South, during the 1940’s, begins receiving Oscar buzz for the three leads. Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), a struggling actress in the business for a long time, plays the dying mother who only wants to be reunited with her daughter. When she gets a whiff of the Oscar buzz, she stokes the flames, desperate for a last chance at stardom. When her costar, Victor Alan Miller (Harry Shearer), most famous as the mascot for a Hebrew hot dog, appears on a morning talk show with her, the male host states he thinks Victor is turning in an Oscar worthy performance. Then, ‘Hollywood Now’ hosts Chuck Porter and Cindy Martin (Fred Willard and Jane Lynch, “The 40 Year Old Virgin”) catch the story and start pushing Callie Webb (Parker Posey), their co-star, for an Oscar as well. Naturally, this turns the small, admittedly bad, film into another beast entirely. Jay Berman (Christopher Guest), the film’s director, doesn’t seem to notice and only wants the light to be brighter. Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge), the film’s producer, a dumb blond who inherited a lot of money from her family’s diaper service, the Brown Diaper Service, uses her money to finance the film, simply for the opportunity to appear in the spotlight. When the Oscar buzz makes its way around town, studio executive Martin Gibb (Ricky Gervais) makes an appearance and requests some changes, to increase the audience. “Remove the Jewishness, and people will come to see it.”
“For Your Consideration”, from writer/ director Christopher Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy, the team behind “This is Spinal Tap”, “Waiting for Guffman”, “Best in Show” and “The Mighty Wind”, have assembled their repertory group of familiar faces, all of whom take on different wacky personas in this skewed universe.
But “For Your Consideration” is not as successful as their other recent films.
First and foremost, the film takes forever to get going. The film begins with Marilyn Hack, as she watches “Jezebel” on television, presumably to prepare for the role she is playing in the film. Then she has trouble at the front gate. Then we meet Jay, the director. He does not possess much talent; he wants Marilyn to add a weird facial tic during her big dramatic scene. Then we meet Victor, the aging star; he is having trouble getting his agent, Morley Orfkin (Eugene Levy), to take his calls and get him some work. Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins), a desperate public relations man, seems to realize what a loser this film is, yet he is ready to kick the PR machine into full gear if necessary. Then we meet Whitney Taylor Brown, who has survived a strange accident and must remain seated in a special chair that makes her look like she is standing. She relies on her assistant (Jordan Black) for his opinion in helping her make decisions. The film cycles through these characters, setting them up in brief tableaus before moving on to another character or combination of characters. With each tableau, we are presumably drawn deeper into the story. Some introduce us to new characters, like “Purim” writers Lance Iverson and Philip Koontz (Michael McKean and Bob Balaban); two play writers who teach during the day and think they have presumably received their big break. But few of these brief scenes even manage a chuckle. Almost none elicit a laugh out loud moment.
Because we are watching a series of scenes, they begin to resemble skits laced together for the benefit of the story. These moments also seem longer than they actually are, because they aren’t achieving their goal, to make us laugh.
“Consideration” starts to become tedious very fast.
Then, just as I thought I couldn’t stand it anymore, the last twenty or thirty minutes have some laugh out loud moments. It almost seems like director Guest was using the rest of the film to set-up this brief period of payoff. Yeah, that’s it.
After spending so much time with these characters, we feel we are getting to know the depths of their desperation. And in the final act, we see the lengths they are willing to go to achieve these goals. This isn’t some madcap moment, like you might find in “A Fish called Wanda” or other great ensemble comedies, the moments are quiet, quirky and funny.
The only problem? You have to sit through an hour of very inside Hollywood jokes, well-thought out but unfunny characterizations and set-ups for jokes that don’t pay off. Jay is a hack director, we get it. He is more interesting in getting fed than making a cinematic masterpiece. It seems odd that the weakest character in the film belongs to the director and co-writer.
There are some standouts in the film. Catherine O’Hara is great, as usual. She actually appears to be trying to make Marilyn a real person. We can feel the woman’s pain, her desperation as she strives to make “Purim” better than it has a right to be. She queries the cinematographer about the scenes. “How did they look?” she asks with more than a hint of desperation. When she hears there has been a mention of her performance on the internet, she fuels the flames of this rumor, asking people if they have heard it. Then, when the rumor mill is in full swing, she begins to prepare for her Oscar night performance in ways that are strange and unusual. O’Hara is great with this type of character, the desperate woman fighting for one last chance, and Guest seems to realize this. She has played this type of person in all of their collaborations. She is playing the one character who could, with a little tweaking, be at home in a drama.
Jane Lynch and Fred Willard play Cindy Martin and Chuck Porter, the hosts of an “Entertainment Tonight”, “Access Hollywood”, and “The Insider” type of show. Cindy is more interested in looking great in front of the camera. Chuck seems resigned to his fate and doesn’t really give a damn. Their scenes are dead on, capturing the look and feel of these type of programs. If anything, they are too kind. As Cindy reads the teleprompter for her part of the story, the edits become fast, with every move of her head. When Chuck is interviewing some of the cast members of “Home for Purim”, he could care less and asks them completely obscure questions, having little, if anything to do with their work on the film.
“Home for Purim”, is long the lines of the other projects featured in other Guest films. In “Waiting for Guffman”, they were working on a terrible play. In “A Mighty Wind”, a group of marginal folk singers get together for a reunion album. In “Consideration”, they are making a film called “Home for Purim”, set in the South, during the mid-40s. So, not only are the characters attempting broad, Tennessee Williams-esque accents, they have to use these same accents when speaking Yiddish words. It is a humorous idea. And the film will clearly be an atrocity, which is part of the point. There is no way these actors would ever be considered for an Oscar, so when they are, they are each surprised, but only mildly so. It is Hollywood after all. Guest clearly enjoys using these questionable projects to bring out the best (and worst) of his characters, to reveal the depth of their desperation.
Ricky Gervais (British television’s “The Office”) pops up as the head of Sunfish Classics, the arm of a larger studio dedicated to making smaller more controversial films like “Home for Purim”. When the news of the Oscar buzz reaches him, he makes an appearance on the set. Now that people might actually see this film, the film’s tone is far too ethnic and he meets with Whitney Taylor Brown, to get them to tone it down, make a couple of changes. His role is funny, in a certain way, because it is so dead on. Everyone working in Hollywood knows this type of thing happens far too often. He nails the whole persona on the head. Late in the film, at a studio party, he begins hitting on Brown, an Amazonian blonde with little wits. The character is just perfect.
Jennifer Coolidge is perhaps the most successful in her portrayal of a character. She is a dumb, rich blonde spending her inheritance on a film, to become a Hollywood producer. She is really dumb, really blond, and doesn’t know what she is doing, at any point in her life. In almost all of her scenes, every time she speaks, she makes you laugh.
But these standout moments are not as prevalent as they should be. Far too much of the film is spent waiting for laughter, wasted on lame jokes about the various characters not knowing about the Internet. In a comedy, we shouldn’t be waiting for things to happen. We shouldn’t be Waiting for Guffaws.