For Your Consideration (12A)

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The Independent Culture

The new comedy from Christopher Guest and his gang of improvisers is set in Hollywood, but while it's tempting to say that it does for the film business what Best In Show did for dog competitions, that wouldn't be quite accurate. Guest's earlier films - including This Is Spinal Tap, which he co-wrote and co-starred in but didn't direct - demolished their subjects so definitively that there was nothing left of them for any other comedians to satirise. For Your Consideration, on the other hand, is by no means the first lampoon of the movie industry, and it's by no means the best.

Most of it takes place behind the scenes of an indie film called Home For Purim, a tear-jerking period melodrama about a Jewish family reuniting in the Deep South around the deathbed of their matriarch.

Halfway through shooting, the leading lady (Catherine O'Hara) hears that she's been namechecked on a website as a possible Oscar contender, and when word spreads around the cast of has-beens and wannabes, they all start to believe that this could be their moment. O'Hara and her co-star, Harry Shearer, book in for botox injections and hair transplants. Shearer's agent, Eugene Levy, thinks he might be able to get his client a job which isn't a hotdog advert for once. Another cast member, Parker Posey, sniffs that she doesn't "act for trophies", at least until she's mentioned in the same breath as the Academy Awards herself. And Ricky Gervais, joining the ensemble as a studio executive, slimes his way onto the set and insists that Home For Purim's makers tone down the Jewishness.

For Your Consideration is the first of Guest's improv-comedies to do without his patented faux-documentary format, but that's not the only reason why so little of it rings true. For starters, the clips we see of the film-within-a-film are so irredeemably terrible that it would never be released, let alone nominated for any awards. And this prioritising of comedy over credibility runs through the whole project.

As absurd as the people are in This Is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind, you could imagine that real-life heavy metal guitarists and folk singers were absurd in much the same way, whereas in For Your Consideration only Michael McKean and Bob Balaban, as Home For Purim's co-writers, act as if they're members of the human race. Jennifer Coolidge and Fred Willard, for instance, just do their usual zany schtick, but with extra zaniness. Maybe Guest's repertory company has expanded too much. With so many of them jockeying to be noticed, they have to out-improvise each other by forgetting all about characterisation and blurting out the daftest non sequiturs possible.

To be fair, several of these lines are laugh-out-loud funny, which makes For Your Consideration more worthy of your consideration than most Hollywood comedies. But compared to the best of Guest, it's a lighter, scrappier film which seems to be missing half an hour from the middle: it jumps from the cast's initial excitement about the Oscar buzz, to the announcement of the nominations, with none of the campaigning, the schmoozing or the minor award ceremonies which would have gone on in between. It's a mystery. This Is Spinal Tap hit the bullseye of heavy metal sub-culture so squarely that several bands have said that Guest and co must have been spying on them, so how come he's missed a target which is so much closer to home?

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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