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Amelodramatic indie film about Purim generates a torrent of unexpected Oscar buzz in For Your Consideration, the latest low budget comedy from the team of comedians behind cult hits such as Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.
A satire inspired by Hollywood's annual awards season, the film opened with strong box office results in a small number of US theaters earlier this month, and has received its most lavish compliments from critics for scenes involving the Purim movie, the film-within-the-film that inspires many of For Your Consideration's biggest laughs.
Directed by This is Spinal Tap writer Christopher Guest, For Your Consideration revolves around the making of Home for Purim, a drama filled with mostly no-name actors about a family reunion set to take place during the Jewish holiday in the 1940s American South.
When a posting on the Internet suggests Home for Purim may have Oscar potential, awards-season hype begins to snowball, and the frantic mob of actors, film executives and hangerson connected to the movie grows increasingly obsessed with its Oscar chances and their own prospects for personal gain.
Guest's previous films have taken on a mockumentary format to poke fun at targets including dog show contestants (Best in Show) and over-the-hill folk singers (A Mighty Wind), but For Your Consideration eschews the mockumentary approach in favor of a straightforward narrative about the overrated indie that could.
"We've tried to stay away from show business [in our previous films]," says longtime Guest collaborator Eugene Levy, who stars in For Your Consideration as the agent of one of Home for Purim's leads. "It just seems too easy. The notion of an Oscar being dropped in relation to somebody's performance, what it does to that person, and then what it does to everybody else working on the same project - [it is] a fragile premise but very funny."
The idea for For Your Consideration has roots in real life, emerging after several publications kicked around Levy's name for Best Supporting actor for 2003's A Mighty Wind. "This was shocking," Levy says now, nearly three years after not receiving the nomination after all.
"Once it's in your head, no matter how you try to shake it, you can't get it out. You try and talk yourself out of it, but it's still there, and if somebody else mentions it, it's doubly hard to get out of your head."
Guest and Levy adopted a new approach for their latest film, dropping the mockumentary format and working instead on a more traditional, if satirical, narrative style. The pair combined the improvisation work of their previous films with a 27-page script full of scene set-ups, brief character sketches and occasional suggested jokes. They also included a handful of scripted scenes, as well as songs for the filmwithin-the-film and clips from several mock entertainment news TV shows.
"We've opened a whole new door," says Guest, whose Best in Show become one of the most unexpected hits of 2000. "With Best in Show, we got about a 12-page outline ... This time, we had make-up sessions, camera testing like back in the old days of Hollywood, hairstyle meetings and rehearsals. This time it's like a real movie."
The same can't be said for Home for Purim, the fictional independent movie whose preposterous storyline and farfetched chances for Oscar success form two of the central jokes of For Your Consideration. In a style reminiscent of an after-school special, Home for Purim tells the story of a Southern Jewish family gathering for the yearly holiday and dealing with the daughter's revelation that she's gay.
"The idea of setting [the fake film] in Georgia came from an experience I had working in one of the southern states and running into some Jewish people who were using Yiddish words with a southern accent," says Levy, who played the well-meaning but endlessly embarrassing father in the American Pie movies. "It just sounded funny, so we said, 'Let's set it in Georgia and make it a period piece.'"
Levy and Guest crafted Home for Purim's scenes with a florid, era-specific type of florid dialogue. "It's this 1940s drama and it is insane," Guest says of his fake Purim movie. "The delivery of some of those lines is just outstanding. That's a real talent to be able to do bad acting, and it takes really good actors to be able to do it."
"The movie is so [ridiculous] and melodramatic," says Parker Posey, who plays a Home for Purim actress who gets caught up in the Oscar buzz. "A lot of independent movies have some kind of message - there's some kind of political angle or someone's mentally handicapped - that draws actors to these parts. In Home for Purim, it's almost like a heightened, condensed version of those kind of 'movies with a message.'"
For Your Consideration's cast relished the opportunity to develop their own comic personas for the film, with each of the characters representing a different film industry archetype.
"I think everyone can relate," Posey says of the pettiness that emerges after the prospect of Oscar glory emerges on the set of Home for Purim. "The public now is pretty hip about what goes on behind the scenes. They'll laugh at the little vanities that people have and at the inter-actor fighting after a couple of the actors are nominated for awards and one or two others are a bit jealous but say [they're only concerned] about the work. I think the audience will like that."
While none of For Your Consideration's cast members have themselves worked on Purim-related tearjerkers set in the 1940s American South, many can relate to the lure of unexpected awards show glory.
"I've been to loads of award ceremonies," says Ricky Gervais, a star of For Your Consideration who also wrote and acted in the prize-winning BBC comedy series The Office. "You keep winning and it's terrible, because you start taking it for granted. Then recently I went to the Emmys, and we lost. It's very flattering to win, and it's better to win than lose, but you mustn't give it a second thought, because [the victory may reflect] seven people's opinions. I think that's the message."