For Your Consideration
Directed by Christopher Guest
Starring: Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Ricky Gervais
Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures | 86 minutes

I couldn’t bear to watch Sunday night’s Academy Awards – three hours and fifty minutes of weak jokes, fake suspense, and teary triumph. Even watching Jennifer Hudson (yet another product of the “reality” TV machine) arriving in a ruched brown evening dress by Oscar de la Renta with a shiny snake bolero jacket and a 32-carat yellow diamond necklace by Fred Leighton would not have saved the evening for me.

It’s not just the vanity and banality, but the mindless extravagance of the Oscars. A single starlet’s gown would probably have paid for my university education, or fed a good-sized chunk of Darfur for a year.

So instead I watched For Your Consideration, a film that satirises Hollywood’s Oscar obsession and has been lingering in the theatres for three months. Whilst it may not have been best picture nomination-worthy, 86 minutes in a cinema filled with the aroma of hot buttered popcorn beats 220 minutes filled with simmering narcissism and endless commercials.

Admittedly, the premise of For Your Consideration is rather absurd. The matriarch of a 1940s Jewish family in the American South is dying while her family gathers round to celebrate the festival of Purim – the navy-serving all-American son, and the estranged daughter, who arrives with her lesbian lover in tow. Such an outrageous plot does not bode success for the cast of the fictional film Home for Purim, around which Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary is centred. Like his previous films (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show), it is largely improvised by a talented cadre of long time collaborators.

For Your Consideration seeks to prick Hollywood pretensions and satirise Oscar hype, but at its heart is a relatively sympathetic portrayal of the idiosyncratic actors, caught up in the hurricane of spin that is the publicity machine. Actress Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), who plays the terminally ill mother, is constantly worried about her fading career and fading looks.

However, an internet report that her performance in Home for Purim is rumoured to be considered worthy of an Oscar nomination whips her (and her fellow actors) into a flurry, and proves a godsend to the film’s beleaguered publicist (played by John Michael Higgins). As the media feeding frenzy increases (and the rumoured nominations multiply), events spiral out of proportion, until perspective is restored with a crash, and a poignant coda shows a reversion to the status quo ante.

Guest, together with his co-writer, long-time collaborator Eugene Levey, attack the gamut of Hollywood stereotypes – from on-set relationships between co-stars to meddling studio bosses (enter Ricky Gervais, still unable to completely shake the mannerisms of The Office‘s David Brent). It is the shallowness of the publicity community, their vulgarity, and its mind-numbing obsession with trivia and tittle-tattle, that is most effectively skewered. Hollywood tabloid show hosts Chuck Porter and Cindy Martin (wonderful caricatures played by Fred Willard and Cindy Lynch) epitomise the crassness and cruelty of Hollywood’s media.

Unfortunately, the film never quite rises to the brilliance of its premises. Laugh-out-loud moments are relatively scarce, the dominant tone being half wry and half grotesque. For a movie about film people, aimed at film people, For Your Consideration doesn’t land all its punches squarely – many are merely glancing blows. Viewers unfamiliar with Guest’s previous films or the mockumentary genre in general will also need time to acclimatise to the unusual shooting and narrative style, a kind of cinéma vérité.

The highlights are to be found in the portrayals of Hollywood denizens, like Harry Shearer’s performance as trouper Victor Allan Miller, a stalwart ex-Broadway actor best known to the public for his advertising work as a giant kosher sausage. Miller and his co-stars are caught in events beyond their dreams, and out of their control. They may think themselves stars, but they come to realise that, as John Webster wrote in The Duchess of Malfi, they “are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and banded / Which way please them”.

By the time the 2008 Oscars roll around, For Your Consideration will be in every video store. Save yourself from the mind-numbing routine of haughtily-worn couture and teary thank you’s, not to mention the horror of rappers wearing “creative black tie”. Instead, watch a film that takes a peek behind the fakery and uncovers the frail humanity of Hollywood.

Daniel Kinsey studies law, art history and international studies at the University of Melbourne. He has a long-standing interest in cinema, and eschews “creative black tie” in favour of a classic tux.