The star of “For Your Consideration” is Catherine O’Hara, and if you have not paused lately to appreciate her, please take this opportunity to do so. The “SCTV” veteran has a knack for giving zest even to mediocre-to-bad material (see “Surviving Christmas” — well, don’t, but take my word for it), and among people who love Christopher Guest’s semi-improvised mockumentaries like “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show,” she is something of a goddess. Sure, Fred Willard and Eugene Levy and Parker Posey are funny. But Catherine O’Hara — you don’t just laugh at her. You love her.
I love her a little more after seeing “For Your Consideration,” which is a good but unfortunately not quite great new film from the Christopher Guest crew. O’Hara plays Marilyn Hack, a faded beauty and moderately talented actress who has worked for 30 years without ever getting beyond B-list status. Now Marilyn is starring as a terminally ill woman in “Home for Purim,” a 1940s-set drama about Southern Jews, and buzz on the Internet says she might get an Oscar nomination for it.
The film’s publicist, Corey (John Michael Higgins), is delirious with joy. Oscar buzz means more ticket sales! Marilyn’s co-stars — Parker Posey as her “Home for Purim” daughter, Christopher Moynihan as her son, Harry Shearer as her husband — are genuinely happy for her rather than jealous. Marilyn is the type who inspires that kind of affection, you see. She’s simple, dowdy, and endearingly self-doubting. On a chirpy morning talk show, she’s like a deer in the headlights. She can’t believe there would be Oscar buzz for little ol’ her!
But then she starts to believe it. And then she starts to hope for it. And then she starts to campaign for it. In typical Guest fashion (he directed, as always, and co-wrote the mostly improvised treatment with Eugene Levy), there is a darkness to the comedy. He uses the characters to cruelly mock the absurdities of the Hollywood film industry when we see how Marilyn and her co-stars — who start to become the subject of Oscar buzz, too — whore themselves out to get the vote. Marilyn’s aging but lovely face is Botoxed into a Joker-esque grin, and the Shearer character, theater-trained C-list celebrity Victor Allan Miller, lightens his hair and shows up on an MTV program called “Chillaxin'” to freak-dance with hotties.
All the regular players are on hand (plus some new ones; the troupe gets bigger each time), but Guest has changed it up a bit since “A Mighty Wind.” The film is still semi-improvised, but it’s no longer in the shape of a documentary. Thus, the actors don’t talk to the camera (or to the off-screen interviewer) in brilliantly funny ad-libbed monologues the way they once did, and the movie doesn’t have quite the same spontaneity of the previous entries.
It’s still hilarious, though, with running jokes, nutty characters and subtle (and not-so-subtle) satire to beat most of this year’s comedies. Some of the standouts are John Michael Higgins as the one-eighth Indian publicist, Jennifer Coolidge as the narcissistic producer (“What about me?!” she declares in the middle of an argument that has nothing to do with her), and Fred Willard and Jane Lynch as a pair of vapid “Entertainment Tonight”-style reporters. Those two, in particular, execute their parody with such sharp ferocity that you can feel their catharsis as they ridicule the inanity of the Hollywood machine.
The slight disappointment of the film is that it feels incomplete. There are character arcs begun that go unfinished. I get what they’re going for with the Marilyn Hack character, and I love the idea of it — she’s played so winningly by O’Hara — but they don’t quite pull it off. Some scenes are needed between the climactic Oscar announcements and the epilogue, I think, to flesh out Marilyn’s and some of the other characters’ stories. But it’s nice to see a comedy that leaves you wanting more instead of making you wish it had ended 20 minutes sooner.
B (1 hr., 26 min.; )