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Craig's Movie Club
Movie Recommendations

Spotlight on: Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman
Alternate Recommendation: Mel Brooks' The Producers

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Waiting for Guffman DVD Cover Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman

Christopher Guest is probably best known for being the alter ego of Nigel Tufnel, lead guitarist of Spinal Tap in the film This is Spinal Tap. What people often miss out on are his multiple talents. For example, in This is Spinal Tap, Guest not only gave a wonderfully silly, yet nuanced performance as the band's vapid guitar player, but he also co-wrote (with Rob Reiner, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) the screenplay and co-wrote (also with Reiner, McKean, and Shearer) all of the band's songs on the soundtrack. This sort of "renaissance man" behavior would lead anyone to expect great things on the horizon from Guest.

And almost fifteen years later, it happened.

Waiting for Guffman is the story of the residents of Blaine, Missouri, celebrating its sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). With the help of Corky St. Clair (Guest), a Broadway veteran, they are going to put on a musical called Red, White, and Blaine. During rehearsals, Corky gets a letter stating that casting director Mort Guffman is coming to town to see the show. The cast gets really excited and puts on the show of their lives.

...With a man who appears to be Mort Guffman sitting in the front row...

Guffman is really the story behind the play, however. A story that anyone who has ever done community theatre will identify with. Particularly anyone who has ever done really bad community theatre.

But along with being a stunning satire on local theatre troupes, Waiting for Guffman is also almost totally improvised. Apart from the songs, which were written before, the actors were only given direction (by writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy) as to what should happen in a given scene, then were given free reign to improvise their own dialogue. This is what brings Waiting for Guffman to Recommendation level.

That and the fact that it's the funniest movie I've ever seen.

Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara co-star and Blaine's semi-famous acting couple. Eugene Levy plays Dr. Allan Pearl, a dentist with a Johnny Carson fixation who has just discovered the show biz bug. Parker Posey is just adorable as Libby Mae, former Dairy Queen clerk getting a taste for the big time. The cast is perfect and this movie would not have been the same without them.

All in all, Waiting for Guffman is a stunning parody of community theatre, complete with Broadway-style songs about Blaine, stools, and UFO's written by Spinal Tap veterans Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer.

[Guest and company attempted to repeat the formula with Best in Show (which I found lacking), but this is such an original that it stands high above its successor.]

The Producers DVD Cover Alternate Recommendation: Mel Brooks' The Producers

Two of my favorite comedies back-to-back: First Waiting for Guffman, and now The Producers. As far as I'm concerned, you can skip the Broadway musical. In my mind, Max Bialystock will always be Zero Mostel, and Leo Bloom with always be Gene Wilder.

Writer/director Mel Brooks won an Academy Award for his screenplay of The Producers and he absolutely deserved it. The characters shine on their own merits, instead of just being the butts of gags like in his other films. They are even sympathetic instead of simply pathetic. Leo's blue blanket is not only a joke, but shows his sensitivity. And the fact that Max does not ridicule him for it shows his own empathy.

But the centerpiece here is the performance of Springtime for Hitler, which is still as funny as it was thirty-five years ago. And another thing the modern updating is missing is the character of Lorenzo St. Dubois (or LSD), played by Dick Shawn in the film. He is the highlight of the play and his audition song should have been released as a single.

My main point is, however, is that The Producers is just a really funny film that can only be more appreciated with repeated viewings. I would heartily recommend to anyone who is interested that you buy the movie instead of renting it. Because as soon as you see it, you're going to want to see it again.

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