25 June 2001 | jhclues
But You Don't Have To Wait For The Laughs
Civic pride and the desire to perform bring an eclectic group of people together in the mock documentary, or `mockumentary,' `Waiting for Guffman,' directed by Christopher Guest. As he did with his more recent outing, `Best In Show,' Guest uses his satirical format to tell the story of the good people of Blaine, Mo., who are planning a celebration to commemorate the sesquicentennial of their fair town, the highlight of which will be a play depicting the history of Blaine. And how fortunate they are, as the celebrated director Corky St. Clair (Guest), who has had some close encounters with Broadway, has recently settled down in Blaine and has agreed to undertake the monumental task of directing the play, which he decides to present as a musical. He has the High School band/music teacher, Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban) to provide the music; now all he has to do is assemble his cast. So he posts an announcement for auditions, and with that, the action begins.
St. Clair has a grand vision of what his musical will be, and once rehearsals begin and he realizes just how good it is, he contacts some people he knows from his brush with the Great White Way, who agree to send a representative, Guffman, to see the show. St. Clair, of course, is walking on air, as he sees this as a chance at the big time; he's convinced they're going all the way to Broadway with this one. And on the night of the show, anticipation runs high as St. Clair and the members of the cast wait for Guffman to arrive. They've even reserved a folding chair in the front row for him, and as the curtain goes up, they hold their breath awaiting the first glimpse of The Man himself.
Guest takes you through the whole process, from the auditions to the final show, and through interviews you get to know the townsfolk and their feelings about living in Blaine and their thoughts on the sesquicentennial and St. Clair's elaborate musical. And as you meet these people, I guarantee you're going to run into more than a few from your own experience; and anyone who's ever had anything to do with community theater on any level, is definitely going to be able to identify with the characters and situations presented here. Written by Guest and Eugene Levy, the screenplay is rife with insight into human nature on a level with anything ever written by Thackeray or Twain. The humor is dry and subtle; never forced, it evolves totally from the characters and the situations Guest and Levy have created. And, as David Byrne did with `True Stories,' they play up the humor of every day life in a small town without ever making fun or maligning it in any way; there are no `cheap shots' employed just for the sake of a laugh. It's all delivered good-naturedly and with taste. If they seem to be laughing at anyone, rest assured, it's themselves above all.
Among those involved in bringing this piece of Americana to life are Fred Willard as Ron Albertson, and Catherine O'Hara as his wife, Sheila, who together run a local travel agency, but are entertainers at heart and jump at the chance to perform in St. Clair's musical; Parker Posey as Libby Mae Brown, who hopes to leave her job at the Dairy Queen behind when the show moves to Broadway; Eugene Levy as Dr. Allan Pearl, a dentist with a latent desire to perform who finally gets his chance with St. Clair; and Matt Keeslar as Johnny Savage, the mechanic who never realized where he real talents lay until St. Clair came along, and winds up on the stage, much to the chagrin of his dubious father, Red, played by Brian Doyle-Murray. The performances by one and all are first rate, and it gives that necessary sense of realism to the film that really makes it work; these are not actors you're watching, but real people in a very real town.
The supporting cast includes Don Lake (Blaine Historian Phil Burgess), Paul Dooley (UFO Abductee), Linda Kash (Mrs. Pearl), Miriam Flynn (Costume Dresser), Jill Parker-Jones (Stage Manager), Larry Miller (Glen Welsch, Mayor), Deborah Theaker (Gwen Fabin-Blunt, Councilwoman), Michael Hitchcock (Steve Stark, Councilman) and Scott Williamson (Tucker Livingston, Councilman). Alfred Hitchcock may be the Master of Suspense, but with `Waiting for Guffman,' Christopher Guest proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is the Master of the `Mockumentary.' He has an eye for detail and an innate sense of what makes people tick, and he fills his film with all the nuance and quirks of life that can be found every day in any small town or metropolis across the country. With this film he holds up the mirror and says, `Go ahead, take a look,' and it gives you a chance to let your hair down and perhaps realize that everything isn't quite as serious as it seems sometimes; a chance to laugh at yourself and the guy next to you, with nothing but the best intentions, while affording you the opportunity of just having some good, old fashioned fun. And that's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 9/10.