Idol Chatter

The relatively minor Jewish holiday of Purim is having its moment in the cinematic sun. First came “One Night With the King,” a dramatization of the Book of Esther, which is read in synagogues on Purim and whose story the holiday commemorates. Now comes “Home for Purim,” a small independent production about a 1940s Southern Jewish family whose matriarch is dying of cancer and dreams of one last Purim together with her family–including her estranged lesbian daughter. And it’s getting some surprise Oscar buzz.

Well, sort of. Actually, the movie is “For Your Consideration,” and it’s the latest send-up from Christopher Guest, maker of the immediately classic mocu-mentaries “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” and “A Mighty Wind.” Here, ditching the mocu-mentary format for a straight-up comedy, Guest and crowd skewer Hollywood and its vapid, ego-driven personalities. The movie focuses on the making of, yes, a small indy picture named “Home for Purim”–and what happens to this modest artsy production and its low-key actors when awards buzz comes its way.

Though the characters and set-up offer plenty of laughs, it’s the on-set scenes that prove most hilarious here. We see much of “Home for Purim,” and somehow, in Guest’s hands, the mere presence of a Southern Jewish family dropping Yiddishisms and Jewish terms–a kvelling here, a nebbish there–was enough to keep me and the other critics at my press screening in stitches; this even though my own father comes from a 1940s Southern Jewish family and my grandparents mixed their thick Southern accents with plenty of Yiddishisms and Jewish terms. “Your coming home today was a dang mitzvah,” the father says to his son, a line that, minus the “dang” could easily have come from either of my paternal grandparents.

The main inside joke here is that despite offering spot-on Jewish authenticity, Purim is hardly the type of holiday that would draw dispersed, estranged family members back home or around which a dying mother would center her last hope. This underscores the overwrought, over-the-top nature of the drama and provides for more than a few laughs. The song the family sings at their festive Purim meal–complete with groggers (noisemakers) for blotting out evil Haman’s name–is worth the price of admission just for the one scene.

Beyond the Jewish riffs, “For Your Consideration” mercilessly mocks every Hollywood type, from the washed-up actor to the vapid publicist to the slick agent to the earnest screenplay-writer to the creatively clueless studio suits. Unlike Guest’s previous efforts–where the likes of dog shows and folk musicians are not exactly everyday comic fodder–this film often relies on well-worn, oft-used stereotypes, they still draw laughs here, no matter how familiar they are.

Though Guest’s movies always have their tender side beneath the parody, it’s even more pronounced in “For Your Consideration,” which even provides something of a moral message. It’s easy to see how sudden Oscar buzz would affect a small production featuring a mixture of young wannabe stars and old over-the-top career actors. Once the prize is dangled before them, that sense of mission–of art for art’s sake, of throwing oneself at a small project with limited expectations–melts away, as individual ego takes over and each principal actor believes the buzz must be focused on himself or herself. As you’d expect, jealousies arise, corporate interest–and meddling–is upped, and the result is far different, for the film and its players, than what was intended.

But don’t read too much into it. Mostly, go see “For Your Consideration” for the sheer joy of laughing out loud at the movies. Watch a clip:

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