For Your Consideration (2006)

When this film premiered at the Toronto Film Fest, the director brought out the cast on stage. After Christopher Guest announced the last person to appear, he proceeded to talk about the film, how it was made, and who inspired it. Suddenly, from back stage, Eugene Levy appeared, shuffling quietly and slowly, as if he got lost on a school trip. There they were – about 15 people on stage, right in the spotlight, and in the darkness – Eugene, slowly wobbling towards the light. Christopher Guest stopped for a second, did a double take, and quickly announced “and here’s Eugene Levy, the co-writer of the movie”. By that time, the audience was roaring with laughter. Sure, it was a prepared bit, but it looked natural, unrehearsed. Funny as hell. Right at that moment, instead of joining the cast at the center of the stage, Eugene ran back behind the curtains, a second later a new spotlight hit that curtain, and he emerged again, this time waving his hands, smiling, and walking with confident big strides. The audience was in tears of laughter. We may have expected a bit from Guest and company, but to make a good punchline, and within seconds, to deliver another guaranteed laugh – that was class. And that set the tone for the entire film.

For Your Consideration follows a familiar mockumentary formula that Christopher Guest is best known for (A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman). This time around, less time is spent on the documentary elements (interviews facing the camera, back stories), and more time is spent on building and resolving various situations among these characters. Guest is obviously changing the formula, letting the situations tell us about the characters, instead of the good-old camera interview. It works well, as it allows his massive cast play off each other for more, longer. I suspect there was a lot more stuff shot (and left on the cutting room floor), but this film, unlike the earlier works, proves just how much can be done with focused, tight editing (and how much you lose when you want to please everyone).

The film is wildly uneven – and that’s understandable and enjoyable, because some scenes are build-ups for laughs, and others – strict character development. You can’t have a punchline every time you establish a hero – you stop caring for them. Even though most of the lines are improvised (the characters have a general description, and the actors know the plot – the rest is pretty much improv 101), one still needs to establish them. It’s a big challenge to balance gags with character development. Too much of the former – and you get a Scary Movie clone, and that’s the last film you want to resemble.

The cast is amazing – you’ve seen most of them before – Catherine O’Hara, Ed Begley Jr., Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, Christopher Moynihan, John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard and Jane Lynch – just to name a few. Catherine steals the show as an aging movie star who’s dying to get a break, and is making a movie, while trying not to show her excitement at the gossip. The gossip (and the plot, really) is that a movie “Home for Purim” is Oscar-bound, with 3 main stars worthy of an award. Somebody leaks it during the filming, and the madness begins – the spin, the media coverage, the loss of personal life, and all the unnecessary attention. The film (within a film), of course, is nothing special. It’s directed by Christopher Guest – a bumbling, always-eating philosopher; it stars Harry Shearer, O’Hara and Parker Posey, who are all trying their best until they get a whiff of the Oscar buzz. After that – let all the overacting and on-set squabbles begin. Their transformation (on the set, and during the marketing stage) is astounding. Clueless producer (Jennifer Coolidge) gets abrasive; a smarmy agent (Eugene Levy) suddenly discovers what a talent his star is; and ever-invasive entertainment show hosts (Fred Willard and Jane Lynch – in a fantastic ET send-up) completely lose all manners and ethics in the efforts to pimp the film, and embarrass the stars.

There are also many cameos – Sandra Oh, Ricky Gervais – that deliver some of the funniest lines of the movie. I wanted to see more of that, but I also realize this would make a movie with 20 characters, each with dozens of well-crafted lines. That would have been too much. Even the film I saw was so packed with jokes and setups, often I missed a punchline because (along with the rest of the audience) I was still laughing at the last one. Despite all the jokes and setups, the movie loves its characters – they may have weaknesses and flaws, but they discover them as we do. Many jokes are uncomfortable – and those are gold – you have to be a part of Hollywood to be able to get away with those – and most of those barbs are well-deserved. But under all the spin, and the parodies, we have a sweet story of meek, shy characters who are thrown into a whirlwind of spotlights and soundbites, and are trying to get some fame, while reserving their “ordinary, hard-working actor” status. It’s the fish-out-of-water routine except you wouldn’t want to be in that water to begin with.

For Your Consideration makes many sharp observations about what exactly makes a good film. Normally, a movie like that would sound cynical and bitter. I walked away from the theater laughing out loud, and wandering what other movie-in-a-movie these characters would make a few years from now. And, despite the brilliant parodies, I care for these people. After all, I will also be watching ET, and looking forward to the upcoming Oscar season. Won’t you? See the film – it’s not getting any awards (unfortunately, comedies never get noticed by critics), but it is sure going to give you an idea of what movies do get noticed. And why…

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