Forget the real Academy Awards. Writer-director Christopher Guest’s hysterical tale of a fictional Oscar race, “For Your Consideration,” is loads more fun.
Guest’s smart backstage comedies have so far skewered aging folksingers (“A Mighty Wind”), dog shows (“Best in Show”) and amateur theater (“Waiting For Guffman”). As writer and performer, he also took on the pretensions of aging British rock bands in “This Is Spinal Tap” more than two decades ago.
“For Your Consideration,” which takes its passive-aggressive title from trade-paper promotional ads that become ubiquitous around this time of year, may at first seem less adventurous than Guest’s previous work. “The Player” and “Beyond the Sea” (with Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin throwing a post-Oscar tantrum) have covered this territory fairly recently. The subjects of the new movie do lack the novelty value of spoiled pet owners and indulgent boomers.
But Guest and his co-conspirators have once more created their own cuckoo universe, populated by fantasy-fed Oscar hopefuls and their willing accomplices and exploiters. It’s more about ravaged egos than it is about Hollywood in-jokes. Indeed, it often seems far removed from the realities of the film industry as it functions today.
The script, by Guest and longtime collaborator Eugene Levy, focuses on a low-budget independent film, “Home for Purim,” which has generated inexplicable internet Oscar buzz for three of its actors: Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer) and Callie Webb (Parker Posey).
Bob Balaban and Michael McKean play the quietly horrified writers, who can only watch as their dubious script is “tweaked” into oblivion. Once the studio’s president (Ricky Gervais) smells a hit, he hungers for mainstream success, all traces of Jewishness are removed, and the title is changed to “Home for Thanksgiving.” Guest himself plays the control-freak director, who insists that Hack perform “from the bottom of your womanhood.”
Whatever its title, this misbegotten movie bears absolutely no relation to the kinds of independent films that have been honored at the Oscars recently. In fact, it looks more like a contender for the Razzies. Hack, whose acting style is based on old Bette Davis movies (specifically “Jezebel”), makes a melodramatic hash of her scenes. Miller and Webb seem distracted by other matters: his career in commercials (he once specialized in playing hot dogs) and her bumpy affair with the actor (Christopher Moynihan) who’s playing her brother.
But once the word “Oscar” is dropped, dueling television critics get involved in the rumor mill, and so do the demented anchors (Jane Lynch, Fred Willard) for an “Entertainment Tonight” clone called “Hollywood Now.” On the day the nominations are announced, Willard’s cellphone-obsessed character, Chuck Porter, demonstrates that there are no limits to his shamelessness.
As he did in “Best in Show,” Willard finds a kind of poetry in sheer arrogance, and he comes close to walking off with the picture. He does, however, get plenty of competition, especially from Posey, whose character tearfully admits that the source of her inspiration is “The Little Engine That Could,” and O’Hara, who repeats her “Mighty Wind” trick of making a ridiculous character seem almost unbearably sad.