Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Waiting for Guffman (1997)

The gang's almost all here for Waiting for Guffman.


Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer have cooked up plenty of laughs working together on faux documentaries such as This is Spinal Tap (Special Edition) and A Mighty Wind.

But McKean and Shearer do not appear on screen in this 1997 mockumentary. Instead, the pair helped Guest craft songs central to the film's plot. But many of the film's cast regularly appears in the trio's films including Don Lake, Paul Dooley and Lewis Arquette.


The small town of Blaine, Missouri is celebrating its 150th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, Corky St. Clair (Guest) is tapped to direct Red, White and Blain, a musical marking the community's, uh, unique history.

Two major events in the community's supposed history, how Blain was founded and a major industry, are quite well-crafted. An alien visit isn't as funny, but is helped by the stage show song, Nothing Ever Happens on Mars. Who knew?

St. Clair isn't the most accomplished thespian, having worked "off, off, off, off Broadway" before coming to Blain. He considered a new career in construction, but the lure of theatre remains strong.

His chosen cast includes Dr. Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy), a dentist who wonders if he's wasted precious years filling cavities instead of cracking up audiences. His grandfather was big in Yiddish theatre. "I love breaking people up," he confides.

There's Ron and Sheila Anderson (Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara), operators of a travel agency who don't seem to travel much, and a Dairy Queen clerk Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey) who may have spent too much time checking stock in the freezer.


This crew harbours big dreams that are further fueled when they learn a talent scout from the Big Apple is headed their way. The cast and director dream of making the transition to the Great White Way.

Waiting for Guffman offers some big laughs in its short running time. Bob Balaban is solid as high school music teacher Lloyd Miller, a man just a little jealous St. Clair was chosen to helm the big show. Willard is a hoot as one vain community theatre actor hoping for major success in Hollywood. Levy's class clown recollections are also very funny.

Guest is sometimes over the top with his lispy portrayal of the gay St. Clair and his occasional hissy fits. But savour his dance moves, his take on theatre, experiences with interactive theatre and the My Dinner with Andre reference near the film's end.

What would have this film have been like if McKean and Shearer appeared on camera?

Rating: 7.5/10


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