The episode of The Simpsons where a film crew travels to Springfield to make the Radioactive Man movie ends with a scene where the beleaguered production returns to a Hollywood where cuddly studio executives and generous merchants lend a shoulder to cry on and a bed to sleep in until their compatriots can get back on their feet. The joke is that small town America is too much for innocent showbiz types, and the greedy burg has swindled the film crew out of all of its money. It's as if Tinsel Town was frozen in amber, preserving a golden age where good, old fashioned American values still mean something.
From what I can tell, this is the Hollywood that Christopher Guest and his company of comedians (the people behind Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman) are attempting to skewer in their new movie, For Your Consideration. Apparently the movie industry is full of namby-pamby, well-meaning folks that are not like you and me. They are more innocent, isolated. They don't even know what the internet is. As publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins, Arrested Development) asks, "Is that the one with e-mail?"
Written by Guest and Eugene Levy, and then heavily improvised on set, For Your Consideration is about the filming of a small art house picture about Southern Jews called Home for Purim. It stars two never-beens, Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara, Home Alone) and Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer, This Is Spinal Tap) as the ailing mother and stoic father of a 1940s family who hasn't seen their daughter for years. Though their son (Christopher Moynihan) has gotten leave from the Navy, their daughter (Parker Posey, looking like Katharine Hepburn in her period outfit and hairdo) has yet to arrive. Their hope is that she will return to them by the Jewish holiday of Purim and make her dying mother happy. Of course, when she does return, no one expected her to bring back her lesbian lover (The Daily Show's Rachael Harris).
It's all very serious stuff, and it wowed them off-Broadway. The scenes from this movie-within-the-movie are played as dry parodies of old Hollywood. Christopher Guest is spot-on as the movie's director, and Michael McKean and Bob Balaban are amusingly desperate and concerned as the play's original writers. Their performances were my favorite things about this portion of the movie. What they are doing is very subtle, but it's mean-spirited in the way only a truly loving parody can be. An excellent satirist has to be a little cold blooded, so seeing Guest send-up his peers has a slightly dangerous wink to it. It may be trading a little heavily on insider info for a lot of audiences, but at least it's smart, as are scenes like the one where O'Hara forgets a crew member's name, which subtly throws back to her initial humiliation for not being recognized by a security guard.
The rest of the on-set material, unfortunately, is rather lifeless. The production of Home for Purim comes off as lost in time. The endless backlot shots with parades of extras in bizarre costumes could be stock footage from any old Hollywood movie. Only, For Your Consideration is meant to be in the here and now. Are we really expected to believe that so few people in motion pictures know how computers work? The various production assistants around the set text messaging on their phones are maybe intended to create a distinction between those in touch and those out of touch, but if O'Hara and Shearer are meant to be failures, then why are they isolated in a way only big stars would be? Shearer's character doesn't even know what a morning talk show is.
Which is too bad, because it's the more contemporary humor that is funny. That very talk show is a hilarious attack on the vapid morning chat programs that litter local television. Likewise Jane Lynch and Fred Willard play hosts of an "Access Hollywood" type show, and they run away with the movie every time they appear. Willard in particular portrays Chuck as cold and clueless, asking all the embarrassing questions no one is supposed to ask. It's a shame he doesn't have any scenes with Ricky Gervais (the UK version of The Office), who is also quite funny as the head of the studio who asks for the film's "Jewishnes" to be toned down, maybe make it Home for Thanksgiving instead. Midway through For Your Consideration, as production of the fake movie is wrapped, these characters become a larger part of the story, and only then do things start to finally warm up. Much of the plot hinges on rumored Oscar nominations for the main actors in Purim, and Shearer, O'Hara, and Posey sell out and buy in to the hype. The lengths they go to and the price they pay for it have a sharp sting that the rest of the movie lacks.
Only, by the time we get there, it's too late. For Your Consideration is only 82 minutes long, making the ambling start a fatal mistake. By the time this normally adept troupe has figured out where they want to go, the audience is already lost. Ironically, that's exactly what Gervais' character worries will happen to Home for Purim, that people won't understand its appeal. His boneheaded suggestions actually rescue that fictional picture from the scrap heap. If only he had meddled more in For Your Consideration, maybe he could have saved it, too.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.