Christopher Guests new comedy warrants little Consideration

Every winning streak must end. And “For Your Consideration” breaks the string of mildly likable comedies authored by Eugene Levy and Christopher Guest.

No doubt it’s a coincidence that this misfire is also their first movie with explicit Jewish references. After all, Levy proved he could write and perform terrific Jewish skits in his SCTV days.

But that’s a long time ago, and for any number of reasons “For Your Consideration” lacks the fizz of the duo’s “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

Levy and Guest stick to their usual game plan, and therein may lie the rub. They take a kooky subculture that essentially spoofs itself — in this case, the ego-driven movie industry and the nitwit TV shows that breathlessly fawn over the stars — and make genial, uninspired fun of it.

The difference this time out is that the filmmakers jettison the arch conceit of the mockumentary format, with its earnest, deadpan interviews, in favor of a straightforward narrative (with its own arch conceit, of course).

This is a movie about the making of a movie, a subject that doesn’t make the public’s heart go pitter-pat (notwithstanding DVD commentary tracks and extras). In fact, Hollywood and its sycophants have been so thoroughly satirized in so many media that further digs seem pointless.

The locale is the set of “Home For Purim,” a low-budget feature film with a cast of over-the-hills and unknowns played by Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer and Parker Posey. This movie within the movie centers on the reunion of a family of Georgia Jews in the 1940s.

There are some smiles to be gleaned, I suppose, from hearing the occasional Yiddish word spoken with a Southern accent. And the sight of a non-Jewish thespian like Posey emoting a Yiddish phrase with said accent does elicit a chuckle.

But like most of the bits in this unnecessary comedy, it reads funnier than it plays. That’s particularly surprising since it was the ensemble of talented comic actors that made the first three movies enjoyable, not the writing.

But Bob Balaban and Michael McKean, as the playwrights-turned-screenwriters Philip Koontz and Lane Iverson, are unable to generate laughs from their brief and clichéd appearances.

Even Levy, who has a sizable role as Shearer’s agent, Morley Orfkin, invests his character with little beyond generic hustle and puffery. Morley’s distinguishing (and less-than-hilarious) trait is his continuous nibbling off the craft services table and any other free spread within eyeshot.

As it happens, what separates “Home For Purim” from most small movies being made on location and off the radar is the glowing word-of-mouth that develops about some of the performances — long before the film is finished. “For Your Consideration” then turns into a rather obvious send-up of the buzz factory, and the ways in which actors are affected by the prospect of fame and success.

The central flaw with Levy and Guest’s scripts is a lack of character development, and no sense of protagonists moving the story along. Their films, consequently, can feel like sitcom scenarios, or collections of sketches, stretched to feature length.

The actors were so fresh and enthusiastic in the earlier movies that they made viewers ignore such structural shortcomings. But without that energy, even a decent hamantashen joke falls flat.

“For Your Consideration” opens Friday, Nov. 17 in San Francisco and Nov. 22 all over the Bay Area.

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.