FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION directed by Christopher Guest, written by Guest and Eugene Levy, with Catherine O'Hara and Harry Shearer. 86 minutes. A Warner Bros. release. Opens Friday (November 17). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNNNN
Hollywood may worship at the altar of the almighty greenback, but for the next three months, box office takes a back seat to shiny bits of plated gold.
It's awards season - critics' awards, guild awards, Golden Globes, Oscars - with dozens of films backed by multimillion-dollar ad campaigns trying to generate a little critical frisson.
Ready to pop the party balloon is the appropriately titled For Your Consideration, a well-timed lampooning of the annual feeding frenzy from writer-director Christopher Guest, co-writer Eugene Levy and the merry band of malcontents who have previously aimed their barbs at community theatre (Waiting For Guffman), dog shows (Best In Show) and folk music (A Mighty Wind).
But unlike those films, For Your Consideration isn't a mockumentary, a genre Guest practically invented and a term at which he bristles.
"I make films in a documentary style," he says forcefully during a series of interviews the cast gave prior to the film's world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. "Our purpose is never to hold anyone up to ridicule."
Regardless, For Your Consideration is a straight-ahead narrative film that also happens to contain a fair bit of mocking - of actors, agents, publicists, producers, awards shows and Hollywood in general.
Catherine O'Hara stars as Marilyn Hack, a fading B-lister cast as a dying Southern Jewish matriarch in the period melodrama Home For Purim, an unremarkable indie that's thrust into the spotlight after Hack is pegged as an Oscar front-runner.
Faster than you can say "Anna Nicole Smith," Hack botoxes herself beyond recognition and parades onto the talk show circuit while the rest of the Purim cast is left to ask "Why her and not me?"
"It's a situation that's very familiar to a lot of us," says Bob Balaban, who teams with Michael McKean to play Purim's screenwriters, ironic roles given that For Your Consideration is entirely improvised and therefore has no script.
"And if you're not prepared to handle it, if you start listening to the wrong people, this little gold carrot they dangle in front of you can really mess you up."
This cast would know. An accomplished actor, director and screenwriter with more than 100 credits on his resumé, Balaban starred in, co-wrote and co-produced the Oscar-nominated Gosford Park. McKean, meanwhile, was nominated for best song (from A Mighty Wind) along with his wife, Annette O'Toole. And Levy, who plays an unctuous and inept agent, is a multiple Emmy winner (for SCTV) and has been nominated for everything from an Independent Spirit Award to a Grammy.
"It's like being injected with the flu," Levy says of awards fever.
Given that they're spoofing where they eat, I wonder if they worry about biting the hand that feeds them.
"Nobody really feeds us," says Balaban, the perennial straight man delivering a rare punchline.
"Maybe this is surprising, but Hollywood likes to laugh at itself," says Jane Lynch, who plays a vacuous Entertainment Tonight-style TV host alongside a faux-hawked Fred Willard. "If anything, they'll be flattered."
"They're just happy somebody is paying attention to them at all," Willard chimes in before being topped - again - by Balaban.
"Not that we'd know anything about wanting attention."
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Christopher Guest and company have made three of the funniest films of the last decade, with Waiting For Guffman at the head of class. Their latest, a send-up of awards season that drops the mock-doc format yet maintains the improv feel, falls a bit short of that high-water mark. Certainly, it's sporadically funny (how could a cast that includes Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Bob Balaban, Michael McKean, Jane Lynch and Fred Willard not deliver at least a handful of laughs?), and our affection for them makes this a charming, low-key affair. But as a satire of Hollywood, an easy mark that already does a good job at unintentional self-parody, For Your Consideration comes across as lazy and uninspired. BH