Christopher Guest and company return to the big screen with a haphazard film that will be just enough to appease the die-hard fans of their unique comedy style but will be unlikely to gain any new converts.
Guest, formerly of Saturday Night Live and Rob Reiner’s cult hit This is Spinal Tap (which he cowrote) , has made a small yet exciting ripple in comedy in the last decade with a new breed of improvisational mockumentary-style comedy. With a recurring stock of actors that includes Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey and the like, his films work as astute parodies of such obscure subjects as community theater (1997’s Waiting for Guffman), dog shows (2000’s Best in Show) and folk music (2003’s A Mighty Wind).
In contrast, the film’s target of parody, Oscar hype, doesn’t work as well because it’s blaringly obvious to everyone how silly the Oscar process is. While praise should be given to Guest for willingness to experiment with a winning formula, the movie suffers a little for these changes. The movie foregoes the mocumentary-style and because the characters’ internal monologue doesn’t get expressed on-screen as much, the movie doesn’t convince us as much that it’s in its own jokes. The jokes from these characters are so wonderfully subtle that you need to be hit on the head with them, and the fake interviews take care of that function.
Lastly, the movie at only 86 minutes, does not give itself enough time for its characters to develop. With such limited screentime, some characters have their moments: Newcomers Richard Kind and Sandrah Oh had an entertaining scene and Bob Balaban and Fred McKean work nicely as a pair of screenwriters, but it was hard to get to know anyone’s idiosyncracies, which is usually where the humor lies in these films. If Fred Willard was any different from his announcer personality in Best in Show, there certainly wasn’t enough time to find out. Perhaps the deleted scenes in the DVD extras will show us what Fred Willard and the rest of the cast were really all about, but until then the version in the theater feels like an incomplete draft.