Every year, usually around November or December, I receive any number of screener DVDs marked "For Your Consideration." Studios send them out to movie critics to remind them of things they might have missed and things they might want to consider for various year-end awards. Not every movie reviewer receives them; I get them courtesy of my membership in the Online Film Critics Society, and I appreciate being able to see a lot of films I might have missed in theaters. Anyway, now you have some idea behind the title of this 2006 Warner Bros. release.
The movie is the fourth satire in a string of such affairs directed by Christopher Guest, cowritten by Guest and Eugene Levy, and starring essentially the same casts, with "For Your Consideration" following on the successes of "Waiting for Guffman" (1996), "Best in Show" (2000), and "A Mighty Wind" (2003). It's also the second such satire Guest has directed about Hollywood, if you count "The Big Picture" from 1989, so you could say the fellow has had his fair share of experience in the business of poking fun at human foibles.
"For Your Consideration" follows the making of a small, independent film, "Home for Purim," a World War II period piece about a son and daughter coming home from the war for Purim, an obscure Jewish holiday, the daughter bringing her new girlfriend with her. As the filmmaking is in progress, a small amount of buzz develops that maybe, just maybe, there is Oscar material in the movie. And from there the situation gets quickly out of hand, with the buzz affecting everyone's head, the publicists going bananas with it, and the producers deciding they have to change things--tone down the gay and Jewish angles--to make the film more commercially acceptable to a wider market.
Unfortunately, Guest stretched himself a little thin this time, as "For Your Consideration" is not quite up to his usual standards. Why doesn't it work? Let me count the ways.
1. Guest does not focus the movie as well as he did his earlier satires. The movie tries to rib too much of the Hollywood scene--from actors' vanity to independent filmmaking to awards mania--in much too short a time.
2. Guest does not take the same mock-documentary approach this time that he took in his previous three satires, instead relying on a more straightforward narrative and storyline. It tends to make the movie more commonplace, more humdrum, than his mockumentaries.
3. Guest chose for the objects of his satire more insider situations than in his other films. Subjects like little theaters, dog shows, and folk music were more readily accessible to movie audiences than the more arcane goings-on of the movie industry.
4. Not that the new film isn't funny, but Guest makes most of the humor quite subtle, and it comes only in well-spaced bits and pieces.
5. Guest chooses to populate his film with more people than ever, with none of them clearly a main character. Thus, it's hard to keep track of who is who and how they will all eventually fit together. In fact, Guest seems simply to abandon many of his characters by the end of the film.
6. There have already been any number of satires ridiculing Hollywood for this new film to have much impact. It's hard to find anything new to say or make fun of that other movies haven't already covered.
7. Lastly, among the movie's themes is that Hollywood has a penchant for making too many safe, homogenized, mainstream products; yet "For Your Consideration" seems itself too safe, too homogenized, and too mainstream.
Be that as it may, Guest's accomplished and by now well-recognizable cast help save the story. Guest himself plays the harried director of "Home for Purim." Bob Balaban and Michael McKean play the screenwriters, trying to protect their script from studio interference. Catherine O'Hara plays the only character whom one could ostensibly call the lead, the actress playing the mother in "Purim" and the one around whom the Oscar buzz first starts. Harry Shearer plays the actor playing the father. Christopher Moynihan and Parker Posey play the son and daughter in the film-within-a-film, the characters they play having just returned home for the holiday. Jennifer Collidge is the ditzy producer of the film, meaning she is really just putting up the money to get it made and hasn't a clue what's going on in it. John Michael Higgins is a publicist who has never used the Internet ("The Internet? That's the one with e-mail, right?"). Eugene Levy is a theatrical agent; Ed Begley, Jr., is a makeup artist; Sandra Oh is a marketing person; and so on.
Fred Willard is the only guy who seems to occupy an entirely different space in an entirely different movie altogether. While the other actors in "For Your Consideration" play their roles straight-faced, Willard is his usual goofy self as the host of a Hollywood-gossip TV show much like "Entertainment Tonight." Willard's blithely inane comments come as a welcome relief amidst so much otherwise deadpan humor.
There are some telling if fairly obvious themes in the story: No one in the movie business has time for anybody else unless there's a deal involved. No one listens to anybody else. The word "I" is foremost in everybody's vocabulary. The Hollywood hype machine is all that matters.
The thing is, the goings-on in Hollywood are already so bizarre that trying to spoof them is a thankless proposition. How does one top the antics of a Tom Cruise, a Paris Hilton, or a Britney Spears, the death of an Anna Nicole Smith, or the auctioning off of "Star Trek" memorabilia by Paramount Studios (in which a model of the Enterprise sold for half a million dollars)? "For Your Consideration" seems almost quaint by comparison.
The video has a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde quality to it, looking great one minute and mediocre the next. The engineers preserve most of film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, done up at a healthy bit rate. Colors come across well throughout, very natural, very realistic. But then you have a few scenes that seem washed out, others that are a tad rough, and still more that look glassy. Sometimes we get crystal clarity, other times not. What are you going to do?
The film never calls upon the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio to do very much, so that's exactly what it does. In terms of musical backgrounds, it displays a fine stereo spread in the front channels and directs a touch of musical ambience into the surrounds. Besides that, the soundtrack needs only to reproduce a decent midrange for dialogue, and it succeeds.
The extras aren't bad; indeed, in many ways, they're better than the feature film. First, there's an audio commentary by co-writers and stars Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Then, there are over thirty-eight minutes of deleted and extended scenes and outtakes, eighteen separate items, many of which could have found a cozy home in the movie. Next, there is a brief "Home for Purim" poster gallery. Finally, there are twenty scene selections (but no chapter insert); a widescreen theatrical trailer; English as the only spoken language; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
There are some undoubtedly cute parts in "For Your Consideration," but they come few and far between. Mainly, the film rehashes what a lot of other satires about Hollywood have done, but it does it with such restraint, it's often hard to tell where the jokes are. This is one of those films that doesn't try for the laugh-out-loud guffaw but the little, inward smile. It doesn't say much more about Hollywood than what we already know, and that may be its biggest fault. Nevertheless, one will find a few pleasing characterizations, caricatures, and parodies within it, and for a lot of viewers its charm may lie in its subtlety. For me, it was mostly a miss.