Thursday, August 22, 2013

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION 2006

Although I like to think of myself as having a good sense of humor, I’m afraid I’m not what you might call an “easy laugher.” (My partner would beg to differ. Given my fondness for Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, and particularly Don Adams; I think he ranks my funnybone somewhere in the “easily-amused, lowbrow laugh-whore” zone.)
But be that as it may, I just don’t happen to find many motion picture comedies to be particularly funny. This is especially true of contemporary comedies, a great many of which seem little more than 5-minute skits painfully dragged out to feature-film length. My face turns to stone at just the mention of the names Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Tim Allen, Rob Schneider, or Vince Vaughn; each of whose films (of which I’ve mercifully experienced but a smattering) feels like an eternity spent in the frathouse kegger from hell.
Looking over my DVD collection, I note that a preponderance of what I consider to be my favorite comedies are actually of the unintentional variety (Showgirls, Mommie Dearest, The Oscar, The Poseidon Adventure), but also represented are the 70s comedies of Mel Brooks; Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon; the counterculture black comedies of John Waters and Paul Morrissey /Andy Warhol; and, although I haven’t found Woody Allen funny since Manhattan Murder Mystery and Bullets over Broadway, I can’t deny that I own virtually all of his early, Diane Keaton-era films.
Jane Lynch and Fred Willard do a terrifyingly spot-on send-up of those vapidly cheerful, vacant-eyed hosts we've all seen on Hollywood news magazine programs like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood.
These days, I find television to be the most satisfying and consistent source of comedy. Or, more accurately, the whole TV/Internet/DVD connection. From the brilliant The Larry Sanders Show to Arrested Development, Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy and The Comeback, Parks & Recreation, Ricky Gervais’ The Office and Extras, and Louis C.K.’s Louie…the stuff being made for television nowadays (owing, perhaps, to the briefer format) is head and shoulders above what’s being done in film.
The sole exceptions to the above-stated criticisms about motion pictures are the (all-too infrequent) ensemble comedies of Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy & Co. This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and my personal favorite, For Your Consideration, rank, in my estimation, among the best American comedies ever made. 
Catherine O'Hara as Marilyn Hack:  32-year veteran actress
Harry Shearer as Victor Allan Miller: 40-years in the business, still works for scale
Eugene Levy as Morley Orfkin: Worst Agent in the World
Parker Posey as Callie Webb: "I don't act for trophies."
Christopher Guest as Jay Berman: Alleged Film Director

Ascribable perhaps to its departure from the usual “mockumentary” format they’re known for, For Your Consideration is regarded by some devotees of the Guest/Levy films to be one of their weaker efforts. For me, it's the total opposite. While I would never attest to one film being better than another (each manages to be uproarious in its own way), I can say that due to its satirical targets being topics near and dear to my heart (movies, Hollywood, The Academy Awards, fame culture), For Your Consideration is the film I most connect with. I get all the inside jokes, I understand the characters, I recognize the absurd world depicted. For Your Consideration achieves the impossible in creating a flawless and riotously funny satire of an industry that increasingly teeters on the brink  of becoming a satire of itself.
John Michael Higgins as Corey Taft (alias Jo-Jo): Movie Publicist
For Your Consideration tells the story of what happens when three otherwise rational actors in an inconsequential little independent film allow themselves to get swept up in the frenzy that surrounds the self-propigating hype of the Academy Awards. Following Christopher Guest’s usual mode of commenting on the large by focusing on the small, Hollywood and the film industry is savagely lampooned when we're allowed behind the scenes in the making of “Home for Purim” — a by-all-appearances dreadful family drama (think Lifetime or Hallmark Channel caliber) in the southern gothic tradition of Eugene O’Neill. Minus the talent. 
The amusingly overwrought “Home for Purim” chronicles the domestic travails surrounding a family reunion in the Pisher household in 1940s Georgia (pisher being Yiddish slang for just what it sounds like…pisser).  From its team of hack writers, to its dedicated cast of never-quite-made-its, to its barely-up-to-the-task production crew, “Home for Purim” is journeyman filmmaking in every department. Making Your Consideration a comedy that shows us that rarely-seen side of Hollywood where high-flown pretensions of “art”commingle with standard-operational workday mediocrity.
Bob Balaban (I love that guy) as Phillip Koontz (not Kuntz) and Michael McKean as Lane Iverson.
The conjointly-disregarded writers of "Home for Purim"
As was the case with the delusional regional theater thespians of Waiting for Guffman, For Your Consideration mines its (occasionally poignant) comedy from the big-time dreams and ambitions of the talent-challenged. But since it takes place in Hollywood, the absurdity ante is considerably upped, because, as we all know, being absolutely terrible at one’s job has never been an obstacle to success in the movie business. Hope springs eternal in an industry where individuals of no discernible talent (Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel) can rake in the millions, or truly abominable, full-on crap directors like Michael Bay and Dennis Dugan (IMDB him, if you dare) never cease to be employed.
Wake Up, L.A.!
For Your Consideration's television spoofs are so off-the-chart deranged, they don't look like spoofs at all.
For Your Consideration shows what happens when career actors for whom working in the movies has always meant earning a living, not being on the A-List, are given a last-gasp shot at a ride on the red carpet of fame.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
Hollywood satires are as old as the industry itself (the 1937 Leslie Howard comedy, Stand-In is a good example). But too often they’re either kid-gloved jabs at the easy targets of greed, egomania, and artifice (a la, Jerry Lewis’ The Patsy, Walter Matthau’s Movers and Shakers, Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, or the classic, Singin’ in the Rain); or embittered, not-very-funny, revenge-fueled vendettas by tarnished Golden Boys no longer at the top of the heap ((Blake Edwards’ S.O.B., Joe Eszterhas’ Burn, Hollywood, Burn). The flaw of the former is the toothlessness of the satire; the flaw of the latter: the convenient way the filmmakers tend to posit their onscreen surrogates as the principled victims of a morally corrupt industry (an industry they'd sell their mother for a chance to again be a major player in).
Jennifer Coolidge as producer Whitney Taylor Brown, and Jordan Black as production assistant, Lincoln.
Not a functioning brain cell between them. 
In the end, the biggest lie of these satires is their being rooted in the questionable notion that somehow the movie industry is this monolith of empty values and avarice operating independently of the individuals it employs. If the movie industry is creepy, it's because of the Brett Ratners and Charlie Sheens it attracts, not its profit-based corporate structure.

Where For Your Consideration shines (and why I find it so hilarious) is that it presents Hollywood as an industry that is only as empty-headed and superficial as the people who seek to make their living in it. The humor comes out of the character flaws of individuals who willingly subject themselves to its rejections and petty humiliations; who delude and flatter themselves that they are absolutely NOT a part of the system; and who, pitiably, are so fueled by longing and vulnerable to temptation that they readily sell out every last principle and ideal they have when an opportunity for fame and fortune presents itself.

 For Your Consideration finds both the humor and humanity in people of unexceptional gifts harboring the dream of being extraordinary.
There's not a movie made that couldn't be made better with the casting of Parker Posey
Rachael Harris as Debbie Gilchrest: "Dying is easy, playing a lesbian is hard!"
PERFORMANCES:
As is always the case with Christopher Guest’s ensemble comedies, the entire cast is absolutely brilliant, making it impossible to point out one favored bit without leaving out a dozen more. Suffice it to say there’s not a single character in the film I wouldn't have enjoyed seeing more of. Even after multiple viewing I keep catching new bits of business and finding more layers in the marvelously comic characterizations. They are all just great.

Of course, special mention must be made of Catherine O’Hara, who just shines as Marilyn Hack. Her performance here is doubly notable because it inspired real life to imitate art (O'Hara garnered considerable Academy buzz for the film. A buzz that never materialized in an Oscar nod). 
There’s no way that I can watch her sympathetic portrayal of an actress who so humiliatingly loses her grip at the thought of being nominated for an Oscar without thinking of Sally Kirkland. For those unfamiliar with the name, Sally Kirkland is an actress who’d been appearing in films since the 60s without making much of an impact when, in 1987, a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Anna, thrust her into the limelight. And she ran with it.
Serious Actress                                      Movie  Star
Catherine O'Hara's transformation from dedicated professional to potential Oscar-nominee is nothing short of chilling in perfectly capturing that "perpetually startled"  look of the face-lift set. Amazingly, there are no special makeup effects involved. She's just using her facial muscles! 
Determined to reverse decades of obscurity, Kirkland (who in Anna beautifully portrays an unglamorous, middle-aged stage actress) launched herself into an exhaustive campaign of self-promotion that was memorable in its shamelessness. Almost unrecognizably glammed-out, wearing perilously short skirts that enhanced her always-on-display, recently-enhanced breasts, the 46-year-old veteran actress carried on like a giggly starlet on a string of nighttime talk shows - most frequently, The Arsenio Hall Show. A sad coda to her tale is while she continues to work in films, her Oscar nomination never did result in stardom. In addition, Kirkland suffered so many serious health issues as a result of her breast implants that she had to have them removed and later became an advocate for the banning of the surgical procedure.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
A few of my favorite bits of dialog.

Victor Allen Miller: "It’s just a bit silly about the Oscar stuff, don’t you think?"
Sandy Lane : Silly? It’s the Backbone of this industry!"
Victor Allen Miller: "An industry noted for not having a backbone."

Corey Taft: “In every actor there lives a tiger, a pig, an ass, and a nightingale. You never know which one’s going to show up.”

Simon Whitset (cameraman):Do you know how tight my aperture is right now? Have you any idea?”
Jay Berman (director): “If you’re being a smart-ass, you know what I'm gonna do? I’m gonna put you across my knee.”
Variety Headlines
Pointing Guy Scores Big  / "Let's Shoot The Puppy" Gets Axed: Studio Pulls Plug
Lane Iverson: “You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater because then all you have is a wet, critically injured baby. And I don’t think that’s what you want to put your name on.”

Debbie Gilchrest: "I feel like it's ambiguous. I don't think it's clear that I'm gay. I mean, I got the look, but I think that we're pussyfooting around the subject."
Brian Chubb: "That made you sound gay..."

THE STUFF OF DREAMS: 
Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy make comedies about dreamers, and as such, their humor always has a touch of wistfulness to it. Being a huge film fan and a dreamer myself, perhaps that's why For Your Consideration is my favorite of their films. Or maybe it's just that I get a kick out of a movie that takes a bit of the air out of the kind of people who go around saying things like: "It's all about the work," "It's important to hone one's craft," or refer to their voices and bodies as "my instrument." 
Copyright © Ken Anderson

14 comments:

  1. Oh, I am so happy you've spotlighted this wonderful movie and the brilliance of Guest's repertory ensemble. I just watched this again a couple weeks ago and was so delighted, especially with Catherine O'Hara's astonishing performance. This actress, whom I've loved ever since she was a member of the SCTV comedy troupe, is long overdue for an Oscar nomination herself...she really doesn't ever play for laughs but finds the ridiculous reality of her character and plays it straight...tickling our funnybones with her deadpan presentation of human truth. (Another of my favorite O'Hara roles was as the high-strung, high-maintenance movie producer on Six Feet Under.)

    I LOVE the character of Marilyn Hack in particular....O'Hara captures the fragile neurosis of every professional actor I've ever known with such truth and nuance...and the satirical transformation into celebrity is uncanny.

    My all-time favorite Guest movie has to be Waiting for Guffmann...having worked myself in both community and regional theaters for years, I saw myself and so many of my beloved friends gently spoofed in this unusual comedy, perfectly played by a talented troupe of people who obviously love working together and have such incredible chemistry.

    Thank you for delighting me with this!

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    1. Hi Chris
      I'm with you in having found Catherine O'Hara an amazing comic actress from her SCTV days (Her Lola Heatherton and Brooke Shields being a particular favorites). I've never seen the show "Six Feet Under" but exclusively due to your saying she was on it, I might have to seek it out on Netflix.
      And you're right, she always finds the humor in staying true to the character.
      I think anyone who has worked in the arts in any capacity can see bits of themselves in these spoofs. What gets me is how hilarious a mirror they hold up for us and the comedy never seems mean...just very, very on point.
      Thanks, Chris!

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    1. You've got taste, pal. Pure and simple.

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  3. I'm so happy that you've reviewed this film Ken. After all, it was you who recommended it to me!

    No singular review of "For Your Consideration" could possibly highlight all the wonderful characters and scenes in this brilliant film. I really laughed myself silly over this one.

    In fact, that description doesn't go far enough. "For Your Consideration" side-tackled me, dislodging my funny bone so that it relocated somewhere at the bottom of my testicles, then picked me up, turned me around and gave me a swift kick in the nuts.

    I must underscore the above comments regarding the Marilyn Hack character as played by Catherine O'Hara. I can scarcely believe it's the same actress playing both the "before" and "after" Marilyn Hack. Look at her "post-celebrity"--she looks like a homicidal coked-up Bo Derek!

    (If Bo Derek were given to knocking people off and snorting coke, which I'm sure she's not...ahem).

    I'm surprised you got through this review without mentioning Parker Posey doing the "No Penis Intended" bit, but I guess some things in life need to be seen to be believed.

    I must say, I really find the Corey Taft character to be absolutely hilarious. However, quite honestly, I was never really sure of his role in this film. A movie publicist, you say? You'd never know it, because Corey Taft seems to spend most of his time talking about himself! That said, the vaguely-drawn character of Taft works perfectly for me--just as surely as there are jillions of folks who make you ask "Who is this person and how did he/she become famous?", Hollywood is surely full of no-talent hangers-on whose purpose is entirely redundant to the Hollywood machine, making one wonder "Why is this person employed?". Corey Taft is that type of character, same goes for so many others in the film.

    My favourite one-liner in the film: Taft's put-down of Sanchez on "Wake Up, L.A."--brilliant!

    P.S. I'm not well-versed in the films of Tim Allen, but I must at least partially defend the man and say that as a teen, I really enjoyed "Home Improvement". It made me laugh a lot, plus it had those great over-the-fence chats between Tim and his neighbour, Wilson, which gave rise to some amusing, albeit introspective moments. "Home Improvement" could be sentimental without be sappy. Given that it was an American 1990s sitcom, that wasn't easy to do.

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    1. Hi Mark
      I remember telling you about this film after we discussed Parker Posey in "Clockwatchers." You really did seem to connect with all the comedy and characters in a way similar to my own.
      And yes, there are so many excellent bits of comedy here that the post would be endless just cataloging the brilliance. Glad to hear Cory Taft is a favorite. He's a favorite of mine as well.
      And who can forget the non-sequitur that is actually the whole point, "And what about me?"

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    2. I must comment of Fred Willard's faux-hawk in this one. Little more than a decade ago, wearing such a ridiculous tonsorial creation would be career self-immolation for anyone whose job involved wearing a suit on a daily basis. Nowadays, this follicular folly is practically ubiquitous for men in the white-collar world. What is it with newsreaders, bank tellers, real estate agents and even police officers who think they're doing themselves a favour with this dreadful do? Odd how the women on these shows, by comparison, look forever stylish...and don't seem to have a single intelligent thought swirling around in between their diamond-encrusted ears.

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  4. Oh thank GAWD, a new post! Let's all shed a tear for Sally Kirkland and what could have been (I vividly remember watching the whole Anna dog and pony and breast implant show), but laws if Catherine doesn't nail her in this - perhaps her finest parody sine the Lola Heatherton days. But really, who can choose with her?

    Don't stop here, keep going on the Guest oeuvre and give us more. Or just comedies in general. You mentioned Paper Moon and What's Up Doc, two of my all time faves. Would love to read your thoughts on those. But seriously, Ken, if you truly do like "unintentional comedies," make my 1970s fever dream come true and write about Diana Ross' Mahogany. I am begging.

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  5. Hi Tanya (or should I just call you Diva?)
    You make me very happy in that you are even glad to see a new post, but especially because you remember the whole Sally Kirkland thing.
    And yes, a visit to YouTube and a Catherine O'Hara search provides one with more great comic portrayals than you can imagine from a single person (her Elizabeth Taylor is a hoot as well).
    I laughed when you mentioned "Mahogany" because, in all honesty, it was next on my Netflix list because all I have is a muddy DVD copy of the film I burned several years ago from cable. That film is a a favorite of mine and a laugh from start to finish. Although I sometimes hate to write about films which are such easy targets, I do think it's time for "Mahogany" soon, as well. In the meantime, I did write about "What's Up Doc?" a few years back. Thanks for asking!

    http://lecinemadreams.blogspot.com/2011/07/whats-up-doc-1972.html

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  6. I love this movie, Ken, and your review purely nails it. It's my favorite of the Guest/Levy collaborations, too - for all the same reasons that it is yours.

    The entire cast IS superb, as always, but Catherine O'Hara - ! And it's hard to believe nothing was done to her "after" face. I was sure they'd used some kind of face or wig tape to give her that too-tight-facelift look. Terrifying and hilarious.

    I probably shouldn't admit it but I once mistook a very serious film for a parody. It was Woody Allen's Interiors, which seemed to me a Bergman sendup. I really did laugh out loud from time to time throughout.

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    1. Hi Eve!
      That's an marvelous bit you mistaking Woody Allen's "Interiors" for a parody! You should write a post about it, because there HAVE to have been others who thought they were watching a SNL-type the first time Allen attempted to honor his idol by badly imitating every Bergman cliche in the book! I just love that (because, as much as I enjoy that film, I totally relate to the reaction).
      Glad to hear "For Your Consideration" is a fave of yours as well. Good Hollywood satires are hard to come by.
      Thank you for visiting, and let me take a moment to say I have been enjoying your highlighting so many of TCM's foreign film entries on your blog. I finally got to see the wonderful "Belle de Jour" thanks to you!

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  7. I got ahold of this film thanks to your review. After having read it I had to see it. I'm glad I did since it was hilarious to see Hollywood filmindustry being parodied. It's nice to see films that give actors an opportunity to shine instead of lots of fast editing and CGI-effects. I have seen Parker Posey in far too few films and did not realize what a good actress she is. I've loved Catherine O'Hara ever since I saw her in "Beetlejuice". What she does with her face in this film is amazing. What an incredible transformation she does with her role!

    There are so many funny scenes in this film. My very favourite is when the actors on the set of "Home for Purim" are waiting for the next scene to be set up. One of the assistants comes up to them to tell them that it's time to get ready. The actor playing the Parker Posey's girlfriend in "Purim" informs the assistant that she only wants to adressed by her movie characters name. The look on Parker Posey's face is priceless! On the dvd there were several other great scenes that were cut out of the movie.

    Have you seen Altman's film "the Player" set in Hollywood?
    -Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      Very flattered my post brought this wonderful film to your attention. All you say about Parker Posey and Catherine O'Hara is true...they are great in so many roles.
      And just your description of that scene with the actress and the AD makes me smile.
      I caught the DVD with the extra scenes. Always amazing to me the amount of discipline a director must have to cut out material or performances that are really comedic gems, but slow down a film's pace. With the cast assembled for this film, that must have been difficult as hell.

      And as for "The Player", being a big Altman fan, I saw it when it first came out but haven't seen it since. I found it to be so sour and having an axe to grind that I never was compelled to revisit it. Perhaps I should? Is it a favorite?

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  8. Yes, Ken, "The Player" is a favorite of mine, all though it was ages since I saw it last. It would be interesting to see how it holds up now. Also, "Prêt-à-Porter" would be fun to watch again to see if it's still funny or too dated.
    -Wille

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