WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (1996) is a mildly-amusing "mockumentary" in the same style as Rob Reiner's THIS IS SPINAL TAP. The look-and-feel of the film should come as no surprise, since it stars and is directed and co-written by Christopher Guest (TAP's Nigel Tufnel).
The town of Blaine, Missouri is creating a musical to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Enter Corky St. Clair (Guest), an effeminate New York City musical producer to create a "professional" show. After a series of tryouts to determine who has the most talent in the town, Corky decides on his stars: town dentist Dr. Pearl (Eugene Levy, being as funny as ever), married travel agents Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara), Dairy Queen employee Libby Mae (Parker Posey, delightful as always), and the local mechanic hunk Johnny Savage (Matt Keeslar). The majority of the film concerns the various trials and tribulations involved in rehearsing and staging the musical.
Comparisons to SPINAL TAP are inevitable, and unfortunately this film pales in comparison. The movie definitely has some of the same energy that you find in SPINAL TAP. However, there is not enough actual funny humor to carry the film. It has a few funny scenes and a few funny lines... but it's no TAP. Most of the funny bits are surrounded by long, obvious sequences that wear out their welcome very quickly. Not that the film is bad -- it's certainly worth watching and is a breezy way to spend 80 minutes. But it is no classic.
The video quality of WAITING FOR GUFFMAN is just fine. This isn't the type of film that you really expect amazing quality from in the first place, but the DVD manages to maintain the characteristic documentary feel. Detail is a bit soft, but colors and black level are dead on. There are virtually no blemishes in the source material and I detected no digital artifacts. There certainly isn't much to complain about in terms of video. The movie is presented in the proper 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The DVD presents a 2.0 Dolby Surround mix that sounded pretty monophonic to me. I could detect no surround information and very little (if any) stereo separation. However, it has a crisp and clear sound, with no distortion and dialog that is always easy to understand. The audio mix is fine, fits the film perfectly, and does not distract in any way.
The main extra on this DVD is an audio commentary with Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Surprisingly dry and serious, it still contains some interesting insights into the film. However, the two men fall into silence too often for my taste and I was disappointed by the track overall. (See the note at the end of this review for more information about possible faulty commentary tracks.)
As with other improvisational films (like, you guessed it, SPINAL TAP) there is a lot of footage that doesn't make it into the final film. Fourteen of these deleted scenes are included on the DVD, with optional commentary by Guest and Levy. Some of these are pretty funny and I was glad to see these and get a sense of how the film took shape.
Additional features include the original theatrical trailer, some production notes, and a pointless cast and crew listing. Subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
I really didn't want to compare this film to SPINAL TAP (after all, how many films could possibly live up to that standard). But, I found it impossible not to make the comparisons. The style and approach to both films is virtually identical; only the subject matter is slightly different (local musical theater vs. heavy metal). The film is certainly worth a rental and any fans of the film are going to be very pleased with its presentation on DVD, with great picture/sound quality and some fairly interesting extras at a great price. However, those people expecting another SPINAL TAP should probably alter their expectations before viewing.
Note: Some copies of the first pressing of this DVD have defective commentary tracks. The film's audio has been lowered too much, so you can't hear the movie during breaks in the commentary. Warner says that only a very small number of DVDs exhibit this problem; however, make sure to check this promptly if you do buy this title. If the soundtrack volume bothers you, return it for a replacement.