(director/writer: Christopher Guest; screenwriter: Eugene Levy; cinematographer: Roberto Schaefer; editor: Robert Leighton; music: C J Vanston; cast: Bob Balaban (Philip Koontz, writer), Jennifer Coolidge (Whitney Taylor Brown, producer), Christopher Guest (Jay Berman, director), John Michael Higgins (Corey Taft), Eugene Levy (Morley Orfkin), Jane Lynch (Cindy), Michael McKean (Lane Iverson, writer), Catherine O’Hara (Marilyn Hack), Parker Posey (Callie Webb), Harry Shearer (Victor Allan Miller), Fred Willard (Chuck), Ricky Gervais (Martin Gibb), Rachael Harris (Mary Pat Hooligan), Jim Piddock (Simon Whitset), Jordan Black (Whitney’s Assistant), Christopher Moynihan (Brian Chubb); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Karen Murphy; Warner Independent Pictures; 2006)

“Except for a few Tinseltown meshugeneh moments the total experience amounted to gornisht.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Christopher Guest’s (“Waiting for Guffman”/”Best in Show”/”A Mighty Wind”) latest comedy effort disappoints with its mild barbs and soft satire of Hollywood, even if he bails out from making it his usual mockumentary–it still looks too familiar. Using his regular stock company–Catherine O’Hara, cowriter Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean–Guest channels in on the theme of Oscar hype and how the media buzz that generates among the performers has an adverse effect on them. It aims its spitballs at the film industry for not having a backbone and making such crappy films, something this film doesn’t seem to be too much better than those it’s skewering. It also raises some eyebrows over Hollywood gossip, America’s hunger for celebrities, the mixing of vanity and ambition among the actors, and studio interference in filming because of their concern for the bottom line over it as a work of art.

The film-within-the-film is a low-budget period southern-Jewish holiday melodrama called Home for Purim that gets some play on the Internet as Oscar material for its lead actress, the underappreciated faded aging actress of some thirty years, still unrecognized at the studio gate, Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara). Soon rumors float that there are two other would-be nominees, Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), a former stage actor reduced to playing as a human wiener in TV commercials and failed stand-up comedienne Callie Webb (Parker Posey). They all get carried away with the Oscar buzz and would kill for the exposure, especially the vain Hack (who turns before our eyes into a monstrous dolled-up hack).

It all adds up to a mean-spirited joke on the actors who in the end get dumped on and the film gets altered for being too Jewish and the title is changed to Home for Thanksgiving and, finally, the actors are soon forgotten by the entertainment shows after not getting nominated. There are many broad caricatures that include: Eugene Levy as a double-talking agent; Jennifer Coolidge as a nitwit producer; John Michael Higgins as an ignorant film unit publicist; a freaky looking funny haired Fred Willard and Jane Lynch as a pair of goofy glib entertainment news hosts; Bob Balaban and Michael McKean as a pair of serious-looking writers who can’t protect their script from either the studio suits or the slovenly nebbish Jewish director (Christopher Guest); Rachael Harris as the lesbian lover of Parker’s in Home for Purim; Christopher Moynihan as the sailor brother of Parker’s in the Jewish film but whose character is the real-life lover of Parker’s outside of the part; and Ricky Gervais as the creepy WASP studio head who changes the script to a holiday film that will be aimed at the widest possible audience.

The film takes you into the oily workings of Hollywood and its sleazy publicity machine, but except for a few Tinseltown meshugeneh moments the total experience amounted to gornisht. At least there are a few laughs as one would expect from an absurd Guest production, which might be enough to satisfy Guest’s diehard fans but probably not a wider audience.

REVIEWED ON 12/17/2006 GRADE: C+