FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, like the other films co-concocted by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, BEST IN SHOW, and A MIGHTY WIND, is a wry exercise in improvisation by an intrepid cast working from scenarios and guided only by their imagination and daring. These pieces (Guest deplores the word “mockumentary”) tell the tales of ordinary-seeming folk who sooner or later reveal their loopiness to the general delight of the audience while never quite being clued in themselves about how peculiar they really are. The genius behind all this is that none of these earnest folks are far from reality. In fact, the funniest moment inevitably turn out to be when their self-deluding obsession is at its most logical, at least internally. And so it is with this latest work, which deviates from the formula only in that the gentle, unhinged whimsy that previously served as a veneer is eschewed in favor of the anger, bitterness, and sadness that were always there as a dark undercurrent. FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION isn’t afraid to bare its fangs as a group of show biz almost-weres go off the deep end when Oscar’s name is mentioned.
The action takes place during the making of a small-budget potboiler film, HOME FOR PURIM, that no one is taking seriously, not even the folks making it, until an internet rumor surfaces that one of the cast is giving an Oscar-worthy performance. Hollywood being what it is, madness of all sorts ensues, building on itself with all the substance of a pyramid scheme. The hype machine goes into high gear and everyone holds on for dear life and/or a gold statuette.
The actress in question is the puckishly named Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), a veteran actress still plugging away after 30 years of not getting very far in the business. She’s settled into her place in the foodchain with chipper resignation, bouyed up by her make-up artist pal and smacked down with left-handed compliments by studio guards. O’Hara is nothing short of brilliant, at the risk of starting rumors that will have life imitating art. Creating a sad, sympathetic sort of bravado for Marilyn in a business where attitude and image are everything and making it achingly funny. Popping in and out of her stream-of-consciousness conversations with herself to interact with the larger world when the inner monologue gives way to a well-worn effervescence. Her neuroses remain at the same fevered pitch only changing focus, slightly, before and after she and her fellow castmates negotiate the rarified atmosphere of the A-list without a clue, surrounded by agents, producers, and entertainment journalists who are even more clueless. She frets about her lighting while trying to seem nonchalant about it, is genuinely sorry when she gets the name of a grip wrong, and faces a morning happy talk show with an honesty that is one of the high points of the film.
Not to take anything from the other members of the Guest-Levy stock company who play off each other with the edginess of people who know each other well, but aren’t any more sure of where the improv will go than the audience. In this universe rife with inside jokes and gems disguised as throwaway lines, Guest himself appears as the wondrously detached director of the film, who asserts his authority by not asserting it when dealing with addled actors or wounded first-time screenwriters (Bob Balaban and Michael McKean). Levy is the agent whose skills have kept him and his clients firmly on the C list. Harry Shearer is the classically trained co-star who makes his living as talking wiener, Parker Posey and Christopher Moynihan are the lovebirds playing brother and sister, and Jennifer Coolidge is the moneyed and overdressed producer whose insights into marketing involve telling people to NOT see the film. Newcomer to the madness is Ricky Gervais as the smooth and smarmy studio honcho suddenly worried that the Purim theme of the film will put off the gentile movie-going public. And Fred Willard is the rooster-haired host of a syndicated entertainment news show who has all the smarts of a cue card.
Caustic yet still playful enough (barely) to qualify as a comedy, FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION is the darkest film to come from the Guest-Levy team. Yet it’s also the natural progression. Their films have always been about the pitfalls of dreaming big, but with enough silliness to make it not only palatable, but oddly noble.