Rated TV-MA. Running time: 1 hour 29 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Fans of Christopher Guest’s so-called mockumentaries will be delighted that he has at last come up with a fifth film in the series dubbed mockumentaries. Rob Reiner directed and Christopher was a co-star and co-writer of 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, a goofy parody of the rock music documentary. Guest assumed the helm of the following: Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2006)—respectively dealing with amateur actors and staff at Midwestern community theater, dog owners and handlers are a national dog show, and aging folk singers preparing for a reunion. The denizens of his films are mostly outsiders who have found acceptance in a specialized field—and in the case of his new film, a somewhat bizarre one, those who don bulky costumes to serve as mascots for sports teams.
The film focuses on the winners of local competitions preparing to compete at the eighth annual World Mascot Association Championships competition in Anaheim, California for a coveted “Golden Fluffy.” Included are
- the bickering married couple Mindy (Sarah Baker) and Mike Murray (Zack Woods), a duo working for a minor-league baseball team;
- hockey mascot The Fist (Chris O’Dowd), a “bad boy” constantly in trouble for fighting and sexual aggression;
- college mascot Cindy Babineaux (Parker Posey) decked out as an armadillo, who is joined by her long-lost sister Laci (Susan Yeagley);
- English soccer mascot Owen Golly, Jr. (Tom Bennett) whose controlling father Owen, Sr. (Jim Piddock) is against his changing the act he has handed down to his son;
- Phil Mayhew (Christopher Moynihan), the plumber mascot of a college football team.
In charge of the event is Langston Aubrey (Michael Hitchcock), hoping that everything comes off well so that the executives of the Gluten Free Channel, Upton French (John Michael Higgins) and Jessica Mundt (Maria Blasucci), will want to televise the event next year. Judging the acts are former mascots Gabby Monkhouse (Jane Lynch) and A.J. Blumquist (Ed Begley, Jr.), the latter’s nose a bit out of joint because Monkhouse, much better known, receives more notice than he. Two other screwballs hanging about are mascot coaches Greg Gammons, Jr. (Fred Willard) and Corky St. Clair (Guest himself).
Some of the acts are cute, such as a dance involving a mascot costumed as a pencil and a second as a pencil; one is extremely vulgar, consisting of the plumber armed with a plunger chasing around an over-sized toilet bowl a small person dressed as a turd; and, well, though none are as funny as some of the acts in A Mighty Wind or Waiting for Guffman, all are amusing—and in the case of a dancing rabbi and a worm, some are a bit puzzling as to meaning. We see enough of the off-stage lives of these people so that they emerge as individuals.
Christopher Guest is on record as rejecting the term “mockumentary” because this has the negative connotation of demeaning or putting down the characters. This is not his intent, as we can see in each of his films. That virtually all lack any sense of self-awareness is evident, but this is part of their appeal. An example of this is the mascot of the football team who shows up at a practice, devoid of his costume. When he tries to speak to a player in a familiar way, the athlete, upset by what he regards as a too familiar approach by a stranger, barely responds, ignoring any further remarks. When the poor mascot walks away mistakenly believing that he has had a conversation, the player asks his teammates, “Who was that?” The mascot is unaware that outside his bulky costume nobody recognizes him.
Just as the Psalmist maintains that God is on the side “of the lowly and the destitute,” so Guest would “maintain the right” of each of them—the right to be treated with respect. They are laughable at times, so narrowly focused are they, but the tone of the laughter the filmmaker evokes is not meant as a put down. Instead, Guest invites us to identify with one of the lowly characters. In some way, all of us are at times in such funny situations seeking a “Golden Fluffy.” We all need to find our passion that gives meaning to our lives, Guest suggests, even if it is in a bizarre or looked down upon vocation. Amateur actors might dream of making it to Broadway, despite their limited talent; folk singers revel at their reunion, even though that musical genre has fallen from popularity; and the faceless wearers of weird costumes might shed their anonymity for a moment of glory in Anaheim. Such lowly folk are not to be mocked, but seen as worthy of being treated with dignity. (Well, in the current film, most of them.)
This review with a set of questions will be in the Dec. 2016 issue of VP.