'For Your Consideration' pushes for the envelope 

Christopher Guest applies his amiable skewer to Oscar buzz — the dunderheads who generate it and the wannabe winners who shamelessly engage in the ado — in his new comedy, "For Your Consideration." The result is paler than his similarly themed dog-show send-up, "Best in Show," among his other pleasers, but is still a triumphant look at losers seeking validation in these times when limelight and trophies define worth.

Again partnering with Eugene Levy in the screenwriting arena, Guest has forgone his successful mockumentary format in favor of a standard narrative. Otherwise, the ingredients distinguishing his mock-docs — an improvisation-based script; an established stable of actors — remain, and still deliver.

The story centers on the making of a low-budget Jewish-flavored film, "Home for Purim." After an Internet tidbit deems lead actress Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) a potential Academy Award nominee, rumors mushroom. Costars Callie Webb (Parker Posey) and Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), who’s best known for playing a foot-long wiener, also become Oscar-touted. The media descends. Contenders glam up, dumb down, and campaign for the statue. The studio chief (Ricky Gervais), smelling commercial success,instructs the disapproving screenwriters (Bob Balaban, Michael McKean) to "tone down" the Jewishness.

Perhaps because the subject of Hollywood soullessness is so familiar to Guest and company, the movie sometimes gets insidery and slack. It’s less consistently sharp than Guest’s earlier comedies, including the Hollywood-themed "The Big Picture."

Another shortcoming is the film-within-a-film. It’s too awful (think the stage show in Guest’s "Waiting for Guffman") to prompt Oscar talk, even in bandwagon-minded Hollywood.

But Guest has still made an entertaining, astute movie about small pictures, big silliness, and the challenges of maintaining integrity and sanity when glory beckons.

There’s enough terrific material here to please both indie fans and anyone saddened by the piffle that, once limited to gossip reportage, now occupies center stage. The sight of a made-over Marilyn, a longtime trouper suddenly obsessed with making the A-list, is hilariously pathetic. So is the dense entertainment-TV duo (Fred Willard, Jane Lynch) covering the hype.

The cast, which also includes Levy as Victor’s hollow agent and Jennifer Coolidge as the diaper-company heiress acting as producer, is perfectly in sync with Guest, combining parody with sympathy for these mediocre strivers who’ll do anything for a big-time seal of approval.

Surely, there’s infinite comic potential in such human need, and Guest continues to embrace it, winningly.

Movie review

For Your Consideration ***

Starring Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy and Fred Willard

Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy

Directed by Christopher Guest

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 26 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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