Waiting for Guffmanrecommended viewing

A chair's for FOOLS!
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1996
Director: 
Christopher Guest
Starring: 
Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Bob Balaban, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Fred Willard
The Setup: 
The whole community of a small town gets involved in a musical show about the history of their town.
Discussion: 

I saw this a few years ago and found it absolutely hilarious, the first and best of all the Christopher Guest pseudo-documentaries, and upon reviewing it again as I showed it to a friend, it turns out to be even funnier than I remembered.

The deal is that we're in Blaine, Missouri, a nondescript town that made its meager reputation by becoming the stool [the kind you sit on] capital of the country. Corky St. Clair, played by Christopher Guest in outrageously gay outfits and a little toupee, used to be on Broadway [I don't know if we ever find out, but I think he was an extra or a very minor player], and everyone in Blaine thinks he was a big-time Broadway player. He is planning on putting on a show called Red, White and Blaine that will tell the town's history. Various people from the town try out, and the movie takes the form of a documentary about the rehearsals and finally the performance of the show.

The first thing that's apparent is that Corky is flamboyantly, extravagantly gay, and either has no clue about it himself, or thinks he can somehow pass as straight with everyone else. One of the big laughs I remember from first seeing this movie is when Corky says that he wasn't sure what kind of job he would have upon moving to Blaine, and thought he might end up as some sort of construction worker, you know, who wear those hats with the "sweeping" curves. Later he mentions his wife "Bonnie," and obviously made up details like "When I got out of the Navy…." As the movie goes on, we see him go beg an attractive mechanic from the local garage to be in the show, and later throws a fit when he quits. After a while one significant strand of the movie is this portrait of this closeted gay man and his many and various self-delusions.

So the deal with these movies is that Guest and Eugene Levy write a basic outline of the story and each scene, and then the scene itself is improvised, which can kind of amaze as you watch the performers pull some real magic out of the air, saying something that is just so off-the-wall that's hilarious. One example of this is at the beginning, when the city council recommends putting guys with rifles on the roofs of various buildings, because "you remember the egging we got last year." A lot of these things go by so fast it takes a second for it to sink in. The fake documentary form also does a great job of playing the often WAY over-the-top humor against the essential seriousness and "honesty" of the form.

The theme of this movie is how these small-town people need only the slightest encouragement to believe that they really have what it takes to make it to Broadway and it's only a matter of time before everyone sees that, and the main topic here is some people's inherent overvaluation of themselves. You have the woman who's a descendent of the original founder of Blaine, who says she "knows how the Kennedy's feel," and the couple who describe their careers as travel agents as "a glamour profession." You can see how Parker Posey starts doing her hair and makeup once she gets accepted into the show, where she was keeping herself unmade before. The people in the show are excited, but go crazy upon hearing that a New York critic is coming out to see the show, assuming immediately that if they get a decent review, they will be heading to Broadway. The travel agents, played by Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara, immediately start talking about how they'd be more appropriate for Hollywood. Willard later has a hilarious bit where he's dancing and putting a ribbon behind women and pulling them close, then stops before putting it around Eugene Levy, laughing too long about something that just isn't that funny, and explaining the "joke" in far more detail than he needs to go into, exposing his character's casual homophobia in his assumption that everyone will find something like that funny and assume that dancing with another man is "just not right." With these resonances and the larger aura the player draw around their characters, the humor here begins to make a larger statement about American people and culture in general, making it more than a collection of funny jokes.

All that said, now: favorite parts. I love the section where Bob Balaban, as the music teacher [who actually knows about music] who has been replaced as director of the show by Corky [who knows nothing about music] is clearly appalled by the hideous faux-Broadway song Corky has composed, finally can't take it anymore, and goes over to Corky, speaking in a low voice, and says "We really need to talk about the music." Corky says "Why are you talking like that?" And soon is saying that the fact that there's no organization or structure to their rehearsals "will all work out in a sort of Zen way." Balaban hilariously finally gives up. Later, during the performance, we finally get to hear the songs themselves, including a hilarious faux-Copland overture, and the horrid attempt at a Broadway-of-the-70s-style song in the song about stools, with the lyric "Stools are where... in the past you used to find a chair... a chair's for FOOLS! Everyone wants a STOOL!" I've been singing that lyric all day today, by the way.

Ultimately it doesn't leave you with a vastly changed vision of the future of humanity, but it'll make you laugh your ass off until it ends. Apparently the DVD has a ton more material that didn't make it into the movie, but I didn't bother to watch it. I have seen most of the Christopher Guest movies, and while Best in Show is very good and very worth watching, they seem to be a diminishing proposition. Part of the humor is from not knowing what to expect, and the movies are best approached from a position of naïveté, then being delighted at what a daffy surprise one has found. It seems that going in to a new Guest movie expecting it to be as funny or funnier than the last one would be a sure-fire humor-killer. Anyway, watch this shit!

Should you watch it: 

If you've never seen it, get it immediately. If you have seen it, watch it again. It holds up.