Inconsistent filmmaking technique aside, Guest’s Mascots is one hell of a comedy.
With his 1996 film Waiting For Guffman, director Christopher Guest hammered out a failsafe formula for comedy. Essentially, the filmmaker (who also stars in his films) gets a large group of actors together and allows them to explore an absurd set-up together accumulating in uncomfortable hilarity. Utilizing the mockumentary aesthetic, Guests previous films have respectively explored the production of a play, a dog show, and a folk music reunion concert. While this formula always guarantees laughs, it does hinder the creative opportunity of the films that is seen most prominently in Guest’s latest, Mascots.
Centered around the 8th World Mascot Association Championships where participants compete for the golden Fluffy, Mascots begins like most guest vehicles. A series of talking heads introduce themselves, before offering their competing mascot. The heartiest laughs are most certainly coming from the Guest troupe newcomer Chris O’Dowd as Tommy Zucarello. Tommy’s mascot of choice? Hockey mascot The Fist, which is essentially a giant fist on ice skates. Other Mascot highlights include Matt Griesser’s Jack the Plumber, Tom Bennett’s Sid the Hedgehog, and Parker Posey’s Alvin the Armadillo. With the exception of Posey, most of Guest’s regulars keep out of the costumes, adding doses of wit from the sidelines. Adding commentary throughout are judges and former prize-winning mascots A.J. Blumquist and Gabby Monkhouse, played brilliantly by Ed Begley Jr. and Jane Lynch. Filling out the rest of the observers are mainstays John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Harry Shearer, and Guest himself.
Mascots is a rather difficult film to situate within the rest of Christopher Guest’s filmography. Perhaps due to a familiarity with the set-up, the whole ordeal just does not feel so original anymore. On top of that, there is a noticeable lack of effort when stacking Mascots up against the other mockumentaries in Guest’s filmography. Guest had his breakout as the writer and star of This is Spinal Tap, which is perhaps the ultimate mockumentary film. One of the many reasons why that film is so great was its technical ability to stay completely faithful to the documentary form. With Mascots, viewers will notice that the documentary aesthetic is utilized less and less as the film moves along, before Guest seems to abandon it completely about half-way through the film. Thus, formally Mascots falls into this strange in-between of Guest’s last mockumentary A Mighty Wind, and his second-to-last film For Your Consideration. The latter lagged not in its dedication to Guest’s style of comedy, but to the fact that it felt as if the filmmaker really should have put in the effort to produce it in the mockumentary style that had previously served his films so well. It is this shift in aesthetic that ultimately prevents Mascots from being a great film, but it is a strong piece of comedy filmmaking nonetheless.
Yes, formal misgivings aside, I cannot deny that I laughed my ass off for the ninety minutes that is Mascots. In working with the same group of actors over the past twenty years, Guest has developed a brilliantly unique style of cringe-comedy that has failed to dull since the first foray. The biting dialogue and perfectly timed (and perfectly awkward) pauses are as effective as ever. While the humor and set-up is typical and expected, the film fully succeeds in the pay off. Yes, after watching the characters on screen boast of their mascoting talents, getting to see the words put into action is quite the experience. As the film finally reaches the competition, the results vary perverse to brilliant. Anyone who comes into the film thinking that mascoting is a bit of a joke will be delighted when they are proved wrong. Sid the Hedgehog’s performance is shockingly masterful, whereas the duo of The Rabbi and The Worm is just absurd enough that it almost seems to make sense after a couple minutes.
It may be the same old song, but with Mascots director Christopher Guest reminds viewers that he’s still got it in him. Though missing the technical specificity of Guest’s earlier work, the comedy is intact and still as funny as ever.