Waiting for Guffman

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film is a parody of community theater set in the fictional small town of Blaine, Missouri. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of a handful of utterly delusional residents as they prepare to put on a community theater production led by eccentric director Corky St. Clair, played by Christopher Guest. The show, a musical chronicling the town’s history, titled Red, White and Blaine, is to be performed as part of the town’s 150th anniversary celebration.

Along with Guest, the film stars Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard as Ron and Sheila Albertson, a pair of married travel agents (yet have never traveled outside of Blaine) who are also regular amateur performers, and give their companions a little too much information at a restaurant dinner; Parker Posey as the perpetual Dairy Queen employee Libby Mae Brown; Bob Balaban as Lloyd Miller, the increasingly frustrated musical director who actually possesses some talent; Lewis Arquette as Clifford Wooley, a “long time Blaineian” and retired taxidermist who is Red, White and Blaine’s bean-loving narrator; Matt Keeslar as the handsome and oblivious mechanic Johnny Savage, who Corky goes out of his way to get into the play; and Eugene Levy as Dr. Alan Pearl, a tragically square dentist determined to discover his inner entertainer. Brian Doyle-Murray appears briefly as Savage’s dad and boss, who is immediately suspicious of Corky’s eccentric behavior.

Corky has presumably used connections gained from his “off-off-off-off” Broadway past to invite Mort Guffman, a Broadway producer, to critique Red, White and Blaine. Corky leads the cast to believe that a positive review from Guffman could mean that the group can take their show all the way to Broadway.

The program itself is designed to musically retell the history of Blaine, whose founding father was a buffoon incapable of distinguishing the geography of middle Missouri and the Pacific coastline. We also learn why the town obtusely refers to itself as “the stool capital of the United States”. The music contained within is a series of grating and poorly performed songs such as “Nothing Ever Happens on Mars” (a reference to the town’s supposed visit by a UFO), and “Stool Boom”.

Central to the film are Corky St. Clair’s stereotypically gay mannerisms. He supposedly has a wife called Bonnie, whom no one in Blaine has ever met or seen; he uses her to explain his habit of shopping for women’s clothing and shoes. When Johnny Savage is forced by his suspicious father to quit the show, Corky takes over his roles, which were clearly intended for a young, masculine actor: a lusty young frontiersman, a heartbroken soldier, and a little boy wearing a beanie and shorts. St. Clair never sheds his dainty demeanor, bowl haircut, lisp, or earring in spite of his historical roles, and his face is pasted with an overkill of stage rouge and eyeliner. Corky is also faced with creating his magic on a shoestring budget, and at one point quits the show after storming out of a meeting with the City Council, who turns down his request for $100,000 to finance the production. But the distraught cast and persuasive city fathers convince Corky to return to the show (to the disappointment of Lloyd Miller, who had taken over in Corky’s absence).

At the show’s performance, Guffman’s seat is seen to be empty, much to the dismay of the cast; Corky assures them that Broadway producers always arrive a bit late for the show, and sure enough a man (Paul Benedict) soon takes Guffman’s reserved seat. The show is well received by the audience, and St. Clair invites the assumed Guffman backstage to talk to the actors. Upon arriving, he declares that he is not Guffman and had actually come to Blaine to witness the birth of his niece’s baby — but that he enjoyed the show. Corky then reads a telegram stating that Guffman’s plane was grounded by snowstorms in New York (though it is in the summer).

An epilogue shows the fates of the cast: While Libby Mae has returned yet again to the Dairy Queen, Dr. Pearl and the Albertsons have both pursued their dreams of being entertainers: Ron and Sheila travel to Hollywood to work as extras, and Dr. Pearl now entertains elderly Jews in Florida retirement communities. Corky has returned to New York, where he has opened a Hollywood-themed novelty shop, which includes such items as Brat Pack bobblehead dolls, My Dinner with Andre action figures, and The Remains of the Day lunch boxes. When Corky is showing his collection, a Charlie Weaver doll can be seen. Charlie Weaver a.k.a. Cliff Arquette was Lewis Arquette’s father.

REVIEW:

I have learned that mockumentaries can be funny, but rarely do they make sense. Sometimes that is good and sometimes it is bad. Waiting for Guffman is one of those that I’m not quite sure about. Just when I think it was the most horrible thing ever, it would do something interesting.

What is this about?

Community theater gets spit-roasted in this blistering mockumentary penned by (and starring) Christopher Guest, who plays the ultra-fey Corky St. Clair, a local theater impresario who takes his directing duties a little too close to heart. With Blaine, Mo.’s 150th anniversary looming, St. Clair mounts a mediocre musical tribute to the town. But his hopes of taking the production to Broadway hinge on the attendance of a very important guest.

What did I like?

Mock. There is a sense of irony in how much I seem to like these mockumentaries, because I hate reality TV. If you compare the two, though, they are basically the same thing, with the only difference being these mock films don’t pretend to be real. I appreciate the comedic moments that the cast brings. The whole purpose of this thing is to mock community theater, after all.

MVP. Eugene Levy steals the show, as he does in everything he is in, but what makes it so special is that there really isn’t much focus on his character. For someone who isn’t on the screen for that long to have such an impact is a true testament to the talent of Levy. Fred Willard would be a close runner-up.

What didn’t I like?

Music. When we’re watching the production, there is music that goes along with it. However, they attempt to make the audience believe this is being played by real musicians, when in fact it is computer generated, also known as MIDI. I’m not really sure if this was done for comedic effect, or if they really thought they could pull one over on the audience. Well, it didn’t work!

DQ. Parker Posey was very underused here. As seen with Eugene Levy, screen time doesn’t necessarily equate good or bad, but it is the talent. I am of the belief that she can hold her own if given something to do, as can be seen in Blade: Trinity. As it is, all she really accomplished was give me a craving for a DQ Blizzard.

When the dust settles, Waiting for Guffman was alright, but nothing great. I hear some people rave about this, but I just don’t see the appeal. There are moments here and there that provide a couple of laughs, but nothing that will have you rolling on the floor laughing. I can recommend it, but not highly. Surely, there are some people who would get a kick out of this, but I just wasn’t one of them.

3 out of 5 stars

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