Purim-themed film about a film is packed with humor

BY CATE MARQUIS

SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Home For Purim is shaping up as a nice small-budget, art-house period-piece film about a Southern Jewish family until the whiff of an Oscar nomination plunges its cast and crew into a comic frenzy in pursuit of the little gold statuette.

Director Christopher Guest has poked fun at dog shows in his mockumentary Best in Show and folk music in A Mighty Wind. Now he takes on Hollywood and the Oscar race silliness in For Your Consideration. The film is a fictional tale of a period art-house family drama called Home For Purim and how it gets sent into a high-profile spin by rumors of an Oscar nod. Guest has a rich humor vein to mine here in the entertainment industry and the media hype swirling around the run-up to the Academy Awards.

Of course, “for your consideration” is the phrase movie studios use when they send out screening copies of films that are awards hopefuls. For Your Consideration is Guest’s best parody film since Best in Show, far funnier than the previous A Mighty Wind. For one thing, one does not have to be an insider to be aware of the media hype and the hysteria that an Oscar buzz can generate in Hollywood, where any Oscar connection, nomination or win, translates into big box office profits and bigger salaries for stars and directors.

In For Your Consideration, fading actress Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) is starring as the dying mother in Home For Purim a low-budget drama about the Southern-Jewish Pischer family, set in the 1940s. Father and son are preparing for Purim, the mother’s favorite holiday, with hopes that wayward daughter Rachel will return to see her mother one last time.

Helmed by first-time director Jay Berman (Christopher Guest) and financed by the blonde, bizarre Whitney Taylor Brown (Jennifer Collidge), Home For Purim also stars ing énue Callie Webb (Parker Posey) as daughter Rachel, Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), a former Broadway actor now best remembered as a hot dog pitchman on TV, who plays the father, and Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan), Callie Webb’s boyfriend, who plays Sam Pischer, Rachel’s brother. Rounding out the cast of characters are screenwriters Lane Iverson (Michael McKean) and Philip Koontz (Bob Balaban), Victor Allan Miller’s devious agent Morley Orfkin (Eugene Levy), self-absorbed publicist Corey Taft (John Michael Higgins) and hairstylist and rumor-starter Sandy Lane (Ed Begley Jr.). The president of the Sunfish Classics studio Martin Gibb (Ricky Gervais) takes a sudden interest in his film once the Oscar buzz starts, buzz led by Hollywood Now reporters Chuck Porter (Fred Willard) and Cindy Martin (Jane Lynch).

The absurdity of the film’s Yiddish with a Southern accent dialogue escapes everyone in this little group, distracted with their own issues when Internet rumors about award possibilities for three cast members begin to circulate.

For Your Consideration goes after both the filmmakers and the entertainment media in this skewering. Guest is in fine form with this ensemble comedy packed with wonderfully ridiculous bits that underscore the strange world of the entertainment industry. The comedy does not really use the documentary style of Guest’s other films, although it occasionally has that feel when the cast appear on the various entertainment shows. One exchange between actors on the set of Home For Purim speaks volumes about the theme: “Apparently someone on the internet said something about the possibility of an Oscar” “Internet — that’s the one with email.” At first, everyone on the film is skeptical about the award nomination rumor, at least until the entertainment reporters come around. Then, the set of Home For Purim goes from a tight knit group of cast and crew to a competitive everyone-for-themselves juggernaut.

Not that there were not conflicts to start. The script writers have the ear of producer Whitney Taylor Brown who is financing their project and gets her to intervene when they think that the director is straying too far, even thought she has no idea what is going on in the film. Jennifer Collidge is terrific as Brown, one of the many sparkling performances that give the comedy its biggest boost.

The ensemble cast is terrific, especially Catherine O’Hara as the actress playing the dying mother in the film within a film, the one where the first Oscar rumor starts the craziness. Other strong comic performances in the ensemble cast include Eugene Levy (who co-wrote the script), Harry Shearer and Ed Begeley Jr. Much of the ensemble comedy is subtle and sometimes little gems of absurdity almost slip past you.

Guest’s film is a brilliantly sarcastic Hoorah for Hollywood comedy about how a little film for a small audience becomes a catalyst for change, transforming both the film and the cast members. While you do not have to be an insider to get the jokes, it does help a bit to be a movie fan more than a fan of the entertainment media itself to really enjoy this film. The comedy is packed with recognizable caricatures of Hollywood types, such as Fred Willard’s aging entertainment reporter with the gel-enhanced, vertical hair and determinedly mean streak. One of the funniest characters is Harry Shearer’s Victor Allan Miller, a former Broadway great that everyone now knows best as the “hot dog man,” who takes whatever work comes his way and handles the ridiculous questions with good humor and grace. Work is work, for Victor. Eugene Levy plays Victor’s two-faced, ineffective agent, who praises his client face-to-face while dodging their meetings. At least until the Oscar buzz starts.

For some, For Your Consideration’s story about the entertainment industry might be less interesting or they may feel like they have seen all of Christopher Guest’s comic tricks already. However, for many of us, this Hollywood parody is just the ticket before the real Oscar hoopla gets started.

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