A mild disappointment from Christopher Guest.
Guest's earlier films have been marvelous mockumentaries, largely improvised from scenarios devised by Guest and Eugene Levy. Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind -- it's an impressive streak. His usual company of actors is on hand -- Guest, Levy, Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch -- for this story about low-budget Hollywood movie making.
We're following the cast and crew of Home for Purim, a World War II-era story about a Southern Jewish family. The movie stars Marilyn Hack (O'Hara) and Victor Allan Miller (Shearer), two actors who've had careers just successful enough to keep their heads above water, but have never earned stardom or much critical respect; Victor's best-known role to date has been as Irv, the foot-long weiner in a long-running series of TV commercials. So no one knows quite what to think when an anonymous Internet poster suggests that Marilyn's performance in Purim might earn her an Oscar nomination; the movie's still being filmed, and suddenly the buzz has taken over the project.
This is something of a letdown from Guest's other movies. At their best, those movies create characters who are so fully realized, so completely inhabited by the actors, that their interaction never feels improvised; it simply feels real. (Levy and O'Hara as Mitch and Mickey in A Mighty Wind, for instance, deliver two of the best performances of recent years.) But this time around, the characters don't feel quite so lived-in; we're more aware of the actors trying to be funny. And when the jokes come -- and there are some very funny moments here -- they're often more about non-sequitur than about the deeply character-based comedy we see in Guest's other movies.
There are things to enjoy here. No one does dumb blonde with the panache of Jennifer Coolidge, who plays the producer of Purim; Fred Willard and Jane Lynch are amusing as the hosts of an Entertainment Tonight-style show; and O'Hara's Marilyn Hack is sweetly befuddled as she gets caught up in hype she's never known before. But if I should find myself six months from now in the mood for one of Guest's comedies, this won't be the one I rent.