L.A. Story

Hooray for Christopher Guest’s Hollywood, where Purim gets Oscar buzz and Charlie Rose his due

For Your Consideration pulls off the neat trick of skewering the movie industry while remaking it in its own image. The latest ensemble comedy by Christopher Guest and company may take place in Los Angeles, but its imaginative provenance lies somewhere between the La-La Lands of Entourage and Mulholland Dr. Embellished with anachronisms, affectations, improvisational asides, and verbal non sequiturs, it's as weird and whimsical an invention as Guest's Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, or A Mighty Wind.

The scenario is more or less anchored in reality, or at least what passes for it in Hollywood. Anxiety mounts for cast and crew on the indie production Home for Purimwhen a blogger forecasts Oscar consideration for leading lady Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara). As the hype metastasizes to include her co-star, the famed hot-dog spokesman Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), as well as supporting beauty Callie Webb (Parker Posey), a story for the media, if not a star for the ages, is born.

All of which would be perfectly reasonable if Home for Purim wasn't utterly ridiculous. Written by Lane Iverson (Michael McKean) and Philip Koontz (Bob Balaban), and directed by neophyte nebbish Jay Berman (Christopher Guest), it revives some forgotten mode of hysterical melodrama without a trace of irony or competence. Home for the holidays, a preposterous clan of Georgian Jews — we're talking Dixieland here, not Eurasia — rally around their dying matriarch, jabbering in drawl-accented Yiddish. Like a parody of a parody of a 1940s tear-jerker, it's the sort of film where a lady about to swoon first puts a wrist to her forehead and rolls her eyes to heaven — Acting! Genius! — but with indie cred provided by the lesbian subplot.

There's no business like show business: From left, Christopher Moynihan, Harry Shearer, Rachael Harris and Parker Posey act out a scene in For Your Consideration.
There's no business like show business: From left, Christopher Moynihan, Harry Shearer, Rachael Harris and Parker Posey act out a scene in For Your Consideration.

Elsewhere on the set, producer Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Coolidge), heiress of the Brown diaper fortune, struggles with polysyllabic words; bumbling agent Morley Orfkin (Eugene Levy) gobbles down bagels; and unit publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins) calls for the marketing campaign to be "timely, quantifiable, and orotund." All of Guest's films have their designated scene-stealer, and this time it's Higgins, whose daffy flack adds much to the film's off-kilter hilarity, as well as to its mannered fustiness. His ignorance of the "Interweb" is typical of the way the Hollywood of Consideration often seems as outdated as the Georgia of Purim.

Guest's movies revel in marginal cultures and obsolete sensibilities, whether it's the Podunk thespians of Waiting for Guffman, the dog nerds of Best in Show, or the folk singers of A Mighty Wind. By infusing his antiquated sympathies into au courant Hollywood, he risks a disconnect in the material; imagine The Playerand A Prairie Home Companiondone as one film. But it's exactly that tension, a bristle of styles, that lends Consideration a more memorable texture than something like The Big Picture, Guest's 1989 directorial debut about the odyssey of a naive filmmaker through 1980s Hollywood.

The movie doesn't lack for topical zingers. The Charlie Rose Show receives its definitive mocking, and grubbier celebrity parasites are squashed to death. As Chuck Porter, meathead co-host of TV tabloid Hollywood Now, Fred Willard is done up with faux-hawk, diamond earring, hot-pink tie, and the pathetic exuberance of a professional ass-kisser. Yet in an amusing send-up of an Ebert & Roeper-style duo, the best bit isn't the squabbling personalities or blurb-whoring inanity, but a tossed-off quip, barely overheard as the scene fades out: "This film reminds me of your wife and her ceramic turtle collection."

Lines like that (the screenplay is by Guest and Levy) go to the heart of Consideration, a movie about insiders from an outsider perspective. A less selfish movie about egotism is hard to imagine. Credit the cast as much as the concept. Some of these folks have been working with Guest for longer than I've been alive, and they work in perfect accord, confidence and timing beyond impeccable, everything in its place. They keep the material from descending into grotesquerie because they know its secret: Hoopla in Hollywood isn't the real subject here, merely the pretext for another oddball ode to lovable losers.

 
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