It was the softball premise of each new Christopher Guest mockumentary that made the raves suspect. Dog shows? Bad community theater? Where could they go with that, other than exactly where you think they would? But performance and execution proved to be everything, from Guest’s own inventively sketched misfits, to Catherine O’Hara’s bittersweet emotional ballast to the shenanigans. Eugene Levy’s folkie burnout in A Mighty Wind would even attract a Best Supporting Actor nod from New York film critics — which brings us to the death-by-buzz plot of For Your Consideration. The cast of an indie film, Home for Purim, succumb to Oscar fever over their senior actress (O’Hara) and face de-ethnicizing script changes from producers. Guest (as the ever-noshing director) and company fire up their usual routines: Fred Willard lowbrow-grating as an entertainment-show host (with Jane Lynch), Bob Balaban and Mike McKean fussy as scriptwriters, etc.
But the troupe’s efforts feel dispersed and imbalanced this time, the film’s rhythms not as effortlessly maintained. Dropping the mockumentary pretense, FYC doesn’t find a replacement dynamic for a batch of characters that aren’t as engaging or fleshed-out. And one hates to say it, but the pathos of O’Hara’s starstruck second-rater feels a little obligatory by this go-round (how about more of Harry Shearer’s hopeless journeyman, whose discarding of dignity is a bit more intriguing). The dramatic grotesque that is Home for Purim also seems a missed opportunity, for all its resonance with artistically bankrupt industry shell games. That said, FYC is sometimes hilarious, and its gentleness is at least a relief from Borat’s hooting hegemony.