Review: For Your Consideration

As the film "Home for Purim" commences shooting, the mood on the set is indifferent at best. When word is posted on a Hollywood gossip Web site that the picture might result in an Academy Award nomination for its leading lady, Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), the atmosphere on the set explodes; the whole production swept up in the euphoric, back-stabbing Oscar hysteria that turns a little indie film nobody is paying attention to into a publicity juggernaut.

"For Your Consideration" (IMDb listing) might come as a surprise to anyone with great affection for the work Christopher Guest and his comedy troupe have been doing since 1997. While all the participants are accounted for here, "Consideration" is not the traditional "mockumentary" cinema that Guest has perfected over the last 10 years (20, if you count "Spinal Tap").

"Consideration" is actually a mild, straight arrow, narrative-lead comedy. It's a satire of Hollywood and insecurities, and those are tricky waters to navigate. Nobody is worse at satirizing Hollywood than Hollywood itself. Ditching his normal modus operandi and returning to his "Big Picture" roots, Guest doesn't go for the industry jugular, but tap dances around its fringe nastiness and stupidity. It's a simplistic satire, but the targets that Guest and co-screenwriter Eugene Levy pursue are long overdue for a little razzing.

Split into two sections, "Consideration" first observes life on the set of "Purim," a low-budget drama with a cast of has-beens looking more to make rent than to satisfy any artistic yearnings. Guest and Levy have a lot of fun with the personalities on the set, using O'Hara as the emotional core for the loonies that are trying to put this film together and eventually sell it. There's a flamboyantly gay makeup man (Ed Begley Jr.), a clueless producer (Jennifer Coolidge), frustrated writers (Bob Balaban and Michael McKean), cautious studio suits (Ricky Gervais and Larry Miller), a dim-witted studio publicist (John Michael Higgins), agents (Levy), jealous actors (Parker Posey, Harry Shearer), and a director (Guest) watching it all unfold from behind his monitor.

Of course, poking fun at actor anxiety is a lot like shooting fish in a barrel. Guest and Levy take the backdoor into the comedy, not ripping these characters apart, but tearing them down slowly and publicly, until they're reduced to their most humiliated and primal fame-hungry selves. It's a bittersweet blend of pleasure and pain to watch Hack and her co-stars rocket from professional indifference to parasitical excess as they get the salty taste of Oscar glory, and, at the core of it all, a treasured dollop of attention.

The second half of "Consideration" takes on the world of publicity, as the "Purim" cast whore themselves out to drum the Oscar beat. This marks Fred Willard's entrance into the picture, playing a Billy Bush-type entertainment show knucklehead, topped off with a fake bake, a fauxhawk, and an earring. Willard is a scream here (no shock there), and ushers in a harder punch of comedy. As the zealous cast overcooks their cosmetic surgery, guest on TRL-like shows they have no business being on, and essentially sell their souls for a splinter of fame, "Consideration" again manages to side-step convention and find corners of the industry (including great riffs on talk shows) to mine for clever material.

There's no doubt that "For Your Consideration" is a supremely entertaining film, but what it doesn't hold is a towering laugh count. It almost seems an intentional move by Guest to dial down the bellylaughs in favor of incisive commentary on the film industry. The picture is certainly the least hilarious of Guest's recent output (following the soft "A Mighty Wind"), but what it lacks in giggles it makes up in a witty overview of Tinseltown lunacy.

Filmfodder Grade: B