Waiting for Guffman
Directed by Christopher Guest. Starring Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Lewis Arquette, Brian Doyle-Murray, Matt Keeslar. (1997, R, 84 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 28, 1997
In the fictional town of Blaine, Missouri, Corky St. Clair (Guest), the visiting high school drama teacher and Off-Off-Off-Broadway refugee, is faced with the largest challenge of his life: to create a workable musical revue celebrating his town's sesquicentennial using only local players. Herculean though the task may be, Corky nonetheless rises to the occasion with solemn aplomb. From the citizenry, he assembles Dr. Allan Pearl, the local dentist (Levy), who couldn't hit a high note to save his life; Ron and Sheila Albertson (Willard and O'Hara), a pair of travel agents on the fast track to nowhere; Dairy Queen tornado bait Libby Mae Brown (Posey); auto-shop also-ran Johnny Savage (Keeslar); and grizzled town taxidermist Clifford Wooley (Arquette). Among the six players, there's not one iota of theatrical talent, but encouraged by the unceasing, effete guidance of mentor St. Clair, there's a veritable tsunami of wishful thinking. And it's all got to be done before the arrival of Mort Guffman, a New York theatre critic on his way to see the play and determine the feasibility of a Broadway run. Shot in Lockhart, Texas over a period of 29 days, this mockumentary, from the guiding light behind This Is Spinal Tap, is a scattershot affair (part of this may have to do with the fact that the cast and crew embarked on the project sans script), filled with the type of one-off gags SCTV did so well in their late-Seventies heyday. Guest's portrayal of the thoroughly closeted, expatriate, Broadway wannabe St. Clair is broad to the point of annoyance sometimes, although at other times his mastery of the banal subtleties of St. Clair's existence is affecting. But is it funny? Well, most of the time. Levy, O'Hara, Willard, and the others (notably Posey) extemporize their legs off, singing badly, dancing worse, and generally creating a mess of St. Clair's epic Red, White, and Blaine, though he's incapable of noticing these flaws. Still, Waiting for Guffman generally feels like an overlong SCTV skit. Many prime gags are recycled throughout the film, and, honestly, there's only so much Eugene Levy schtick one can take (though he does get the best Yiddish lines in the film). Like its namesake, Waiting for Guffman never fully arrives, and though the movie is all heart like Corky St. Clair, there's really not too much else there.