Sometimes you slip on a banana peel and the results produce laughter. Other times you slip and wind up in traction, taking meds for the pain. But even the strongest medication won't help soothe the excruciatingly painful experience of Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration. And yet, while it's painful for us, it's completely, utterly humiliating for writer-director Guest's core group of regulars who star in this half-baked slice of misery on celluloid.
Up to this point, Guest has had a sterling track record with his mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Aside from being genuinely funny, the films were infused with heart and humanity, often in surprisingly meaningful ways, as they satirized small-town community theater (Guffman), dog shows (Show) and folk music (Wind), fresh and ripe-for-humor topics all. But Guest sets For Your Consideration in Hollywood, poking fun at the egos of actors, the suit-driven studio system, and the entertainment journalism industry that nightly creates so much gossipy fluff on TV. None of it works -- not even the stuff with Fred Willard who, as an especially idiotic, self-involved, mean-spirited entertainment show host, is for the first time in his career awful.
Too Jewish? The Home for Purim cast.
What goes so terribly wrong? Just about everything. Guest, who co-authored the film with Eugene Levy, opts to tell the story from a standard-issue narrative viewpoint, abandoning his customary documentary-style trappings. It's a serious miscalculation, placing undue strain on a threadbare storyline that serves as a framework for improvisational work by the cast.
The action centers around the filming of a period drama called Home for Purim, a bargain-basement budgeted indie starring Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara) and Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), a couple of has-been Hollywood veterans. Hack and Miller get stoked when the media casually attaches the phrase ''Oscar-worthy'' to their as yet unseen performances. Suddenly they're front-runners in a race that hasn't even assembled at the starting line. Another cast member, Callie Webb (Parker Posey), also gets Oscar buzz, generating hostility from her other non-buzzed Purim colleagues. The night before the nominations, the three hopefuls are swept away by the possibility of gilded recognition for their work.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Starring Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer
It's at this point that Guest turns the screws, hard, in a sobering, emotionally bloodletting final act. He's trying to make a point about the meaninglessness of attaching one's dreams to a gold statue, a false idol as it were, as he tries to evoke the same lustrous poignancy that came naturally to the spirited Mighty Wind. Instead, all Guest generates is a nagging discomfort, as the self-delusional, needy performers among the Purim cast are handed a freezing-cold platter of disappointment.
There are a few isolated funny bits, including a scene in which the studio chief (Ricky Gervais) asks the writers to ''tone down the film's Jewishness so everyone can enjoy it,'' and a TV weather-girl who forecasts with the aid of a monkey hand-puppet, but mostly the experience is humor-free. It's distressing to watch such gifted comic talents as O'Hara, Levy, Posey, Willard, Bob Balaban, Michael McKean and even Guest himself as Purim's director (a man afflicted with an Art Garfunkel frizz), free fall without a parachute and land with a bloody splatter. No one seems to know what to do with their characters. Even the great Jennifer Coolidge is at a loss, blundering her way through her role as the film's blonde bimbo producer. The only mildly amusing performance hails from John Michael Higgins as the studio's energetic p.r. flack, Corey Taft. ''In every actor lives a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightingale,'' he says early on. ''You never know which is going to show up.'' And O'Hara has one ghoulishly amusing moment as her frumpy character, in anticipation of Oscar glory, undergoes a plastic surgery overhaul, creating a visage that resembles a cross between Charo, Cher and a My Little Pony.
Given Christopher Guest's history, it's not unreasonable to enter For Your Consideration with expectations of, at minimum, being fitfully amused. Yet, when all is said and done, you leave feeling unclean, in need of a shower to wash the experience away. If there were any justice in the world of movies, Warner Independent, the film's distributor, would gather up all copies of For Your Consideration before it hits theaters and burn them.