The ensemble that brought us Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show is back with For Your Consideration, a would-be skewering of the Hollywood awards season that is by far the group's weakest effort. Unlike in its other films, the talented troupe headed by director/star Christopher Guest struggles mightily for laughs here, making the entire movie reek of sad desperation for so much as a giggle from its rightfully expectant audience.
The premise is ingenious: during the production of a tacky World War II melodrama entitled Home for Purim, rumors begin to circulate that the lead actress, Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), is giving an Academy Award worthy performance. Shortly thereafter co-stars Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) and Callie Webb (Parker Posey) begin to generate similar award buzz, with only Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan) left out of the Oscar hysteria.
Now everyone from the ditzy producer named Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge) to Victor's sleazy agent (Eugene Levy) wants to capitalize on the hoopla. Of course, it would help if the head publicist (John Michael Higgins) knew what the Internet was, or if screenwriters Phillip Koontz (Bob Balaban) and Lane Iverson (Michael McKean) were comfortable with the script changes suggested by studio head Martin Gibb (Ricky Gervais), who implores them to "tone down the Jewishness so everyone can enjoy the film."
There's no group of actors you'd rather have in these roles, as the material offers endless possibilities for quick-witted improv and one-liners. Although some of the best moments belong to Fred Willard and Jane Lynch as co-hosts of Hollywood Now, a fictional tabloid television show similar to Entertainment Tonight, they, too, miss more often than not: "You know what they say about blind prostitutes?" Willard's Chuck asks his co-host. "You really have to hand it to them."
Complete scenes aren't any better. When two publicists (Sandra Oh and Richard Kind) ask Whitney which poster would be best for the ad campaign, she chooses the one in which the heads of the main characters appear in balloons. The intention is too spoof the inanities of marketing campaigns, but that gets lost in the course of an idiot thinking balloon heads are an appropriate promotion for a WWII drama.
The Hollywood hype machine and smear campaigns of awards season are absurd in themselves, so in a sense, Guest and Levy are poking fun at something that's already ridiculous. Having the courage to send up their own industry is admirable, and if done right, they would have once again been lauded as geniuses. But they've failed, which makes them no better than those they're criticizing. Failing to hold a mirror to your peers is worse than failing at, say, a mockumentary about the World Cup.
There's an old rule in comedy that if you try too hard to be funny, you'll miss completely. The viewer needs to believe the comedian is relaxed and saying what's coming naturally, not something that's the by-product of excessive over-thinking and fastidious creativity. Guest and fellow-scribe Levy need to go back to trusting their instincts, and the instincts of their talented stars. Until then, this troupe will be much worse for wear.