Monday, August 22, 2011

Waiting for Guffman

Directed by Christopher Guest.
1996. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Christopher Guest
Eugene Levy
Catherine O’Hara
Parker Posey
Fred Willard
Larry Miller
Don Lake
Bob Balaban
Deborah Theaker
David Cross

The 150th anniversary of Blaine, Missouri is fast approaching. To celebrate, the town is putting on a musical dramatizing their history. Corky (Guest) is a transplant from New York who is also an off Broadway director. Make that a way off Broadway director. He is tasked with bringing the production to life. Waiting for Guffman is a mockumentary about the trials and tribulations of Blaine’s most ambitious theatric endeavor.

Corky holds auditions amongst the townspeople anxious to show their chops to flesh out the cast. He finally settles on Dr. Pearl (Levy) the town dentist, Libby (Posey) the girl who works at Dairy Queen and local travel agents Mr. and Mrs. Albertson (Willard and O’Hara, respectively) who seem to have been in every play made in their hometown. The director finds a couple other players elsewhere. Together, this ensemble sets out to make Corky’s vision a reality. They uniformly work hard. There are occasionally spats, but ehy eventually become like family. Their bond is further galvanized by news that Mr. Guffman will be at their performance. He is a New York City theater critic who is coming to assess the troupe’s chances of taking their play to Broadway.

WfG is a movie that makes us laugh. It’s funny because through all of the goofiness everyone plays it perfectly straight. We don’t see them as actors going for laughter. We see them as earnest people unaware of just how funny they are. A perfect sample of this revolves around Corky’s sexuality. It’s painfully obvious to us he’s lying whenever he mentions having a wife. By itself this is only mildly amusing, not really worthy of a chuckle. When placed in conjunction with the fact most people in Blaine are completely oblivious to the possibility he might be gay it’s downright hilarious. The thought never crosses their minds. So when the play appears to be falling apart and Corky seems ready to quit, we double over in laughter when Mrs. Albertson speculates he’s having a hard time because he misses his wife whom she’s never met and never seems to be around. There is one character that suspects Corky’s secret. It’s a cameo appearance that eventually changes the course of the movie. Nope, I won’t spoil it.

There are lots of clever moments sprinkled throughout WfG that keep us giggling. The sheer absurdity of it all elevates the humor and a certain plot twist breaks our heart, temporarily. However, it’s also not so absurd that we couldn’t see it happening in real life. This is important because it gives the movie its charm. This is a fun excursion that takes a cerebral approach to comedy instead of slapstick, pratfalls or stringing together an incessant run of four-letter words. That means some may find it boring. Those not in need of such things will find plenty here to enjoy.

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