Are You Mocking Me?

HBO shows tend to lend themselves well to the shotgun-a-full-season-in-a-week type of viewing, so I rarely feel like I'm missing out by not being able to watch them live. I do, however, wish I could watch Family Tree, which is Christopher Guest's latest offering, and stars Chris O'Dowd, who is all sorts of fun. Mining genealogical roots is rich source material for Guest's signature style, and it got me to thinking about his previous mockumentary movies, and how they stack up to one another.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

It would be a crime to exclude this movie just because it was directed by Rob Reiner. I was too young to truly appreciate it in 1984, but enjoy it very much now. I'm not sure if it was the first mockumentary-style movie, but even if it wasn't, it was definitely among the first, and certainly the most influential. All of the Guest movies focus on a topic that's ripe for satire, and the antics of a rock-and-roll band was an inspired first choice. It perhaps comes across that the filmmaking style wasn't fully-baked yet, but it's damn close. The powerhouse trio of Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer is a grouping that continues to pay dividends to this day, and even if I don't find this one as eminently quotable as a couple of the later movies, we'll always have "These go to eleven."

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone has their favorite Guest movie, and this one's mine. It adds Bob Balaban, Michael Hitchcock, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, and Parker Posey to the group (and elevates Fred Willard's role), and the resulting skewering of small-town community theater is hysterically funny. One of the hallmarks of Guest's movies is that it pokes fun at the all-too-familiar character types, but not too much at their expense. Their hearts are in the right place, and they're never outright humiliated for the audience's benefit. So while the characters may be out of their gourds to ever think "Red, White, and Blaine" would go anywhere near Broadway, the show is actually quite entertaining for a Missouri town festival.

To anyone who chooses anything but the hilarity of this movie as their favorite, I just hate you, and I hate your ASS FACE.

Best in Show (2000)

This period was really the strongest for the Guest movies, because if Waiting for Guffman is my favorite, this one runs a very, very close second. More than any other topic taken on by one of these movies, the relationship between people and their dogs (especially show dogs) is the one most ripe for a good mocking. Notable cast additions Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch both almost steal the entire damn movie, but the competition is stiff, as this film is wall-to-wall awesome. Guffman may have the bigger heart, but Best in Show undoubtedly takes the prize for Most Quotable. There is no faster way to make a friend than by watching delight dawn on someone's face when you say "We both like soup..."

A Mighty Wind (2003)

The Guest stable of actors is very musically adept, so it was a natural fit to do a movie about folk music, although the social relevance of the topic may have been a bit past the sell-by date in 2003. This is an enjoyable movie, but mostly because all of the songs are such a hoot. The stories surrounding the musical acts that gather to put on this grand folk music show are less interesting.

Nothing can match the wit and creativity of the tunes concocted for this movie, but the jokes suffer a bit by comparison - The I'm-a-crossdresser-now gag in particular is a really lazy grab for low-hanging fruit. No pun intended. I'm always happy to watch this movie when I stumble across it, but in the bell curve of Guest movies, it represents the beginning of the downslide.

For Your Consideration (2006)

This is the most recent of the Guest movies, so it should be freshest in my mind, right? Wrong. I'm struggling to remember much about this movie at all. No quotes spring to mind. I recall that it was the most narrative of the movies, coming across as having more of a plot than the interview-based structure of the previous ones. It's disappointing that this didn't strike more of a chord, because the ego-drenched competition for Oscars is perfect fodder for the mockumentary genre. I saw this movie in the theater, and I remember liking it just fine, but when stacked against the rest, it clearly stands out as the weakest. I think I'd like to watch it again, and see if it improves in my estimation, gets worse, or remains the biggest shrug of the bunch.

This is Spinal Tap: B
Waiting for Guffman: A+
Best in Show: A
A Mighty Wind: B+
For Your Consideration: B-


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