Directed by: Christopher Guest
Written by: Christopher Guest & Jim Piddock.
Starring: Zach Woods (Mike Murray), Sarah Baker (Mindy Murray), Michael Hitchcock (Langston Aubrey), Tom Bennett (Owen Golly, Jnr.), Kerry Godliman (Sarah Golly), Parker Posey (Cindi Babineaux), Chris O'Dowd (Tommy 'Zook' Zucarello), Christopher Moynihan (Phil Mayhew), John Michael Higgins (Upton French), Maria Blasucci (Jessica Mundt), Matt Griesser (Andy Dibble), Jim Piddock (Owen Golly, Sr.), Adam Karchmer (Monty Murray), Zoe Provenzano (Maggie Murray), Susan Yeagley (Laci Babineaux), Carrie Aizley (Robyn Wexler), Ed Begley Jr. (A.J. Blumquist), Jane Lynch (Gabby Monkhouse), Scott Williamson (Bruce Van Wyck), Don Lake (Buddy Campbell), Brad Williams (Ron 'The Worm' Trippman), Fred Willard (Greg Gammons, Jr.), Christopher Guest (Corky St. Clair), Jennifer Coolidge (Jolene Lumpkin), Bob Balaban (Sol Lumpkin), Harry Shearer (Competition Announcer).
There is no denying that Christopher Guest is a comedic genius – who over the course of his career has perfect the mock-umentary genre. He co-wrote and starred in This is Spinal Tap (1984) – and then co-write and directed Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006). The latest of those may have been a step down from the previous outings, but when you’ve made three comic masterworks in a row, simply delivering a very good comedy (with a brilliant Catherine O’Hara performance, as an aging B-actress convinced she’s about to be nominated for an Oscar), it’s hard to complain. Guest has taken the last decade off from directing features, so his return of Mascots was hugely anticipated by myself – and other Guest fans. Even if it didn’t quite live up to his best work – even minor Guest is better than most other comedic filmmakers. Unfortunately, Mascots is even more minor that I had feared.
On the surface, Mascots feels like it should be in Guest’s wheelhouse. He has always specialized in making comedies about people who have a very narrow obsession – heavy metal, community theatre, dog shows, folk music, Oscar campaigns, etc. who have made that into their entire lives. While it would be easy to mock these characters – a Guest, admittedly, has fun doing that, he also makes them into people who actually do grow to like and feel for them. They start as caricatures, and then grow into real people by the end. Perhaps because of the fact that most of the characters in Mascots spend so much time in giant foam costumes, that never really happens this time – they become less human in the final act, as they get lost in their costumes.
The film centers on the annual Mascot competition – where 20 mascots, mostly from America, but some from around the world, will be competing for a “Furry” – the trophy they win – and yes, Guest and company are aware of the furry sexual fetish, although the few jokes they make about it seem tacked on. We follow a few of these competitors – married couple Mike and Mindy Murray (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker), whose marriage is in trouble because of an affair he had, as resentments come bubbling to the surface throughout. Then there’s Owen Golly Jr. (Tom Bennett), a Brit, who inherited the mascot role of a small time soccer team from his father (Jim Piddock) – and who longs to try some new routines, much to his dad’s chagrin. There is Cindi Babineaux (Parker Posey), who is coached by Corky St. Clair (Guest, reprising his Waiting for Guffman role), and supported by her sister (Susan Yeagley) – who longs for her own opportunity in the costume. There is Phil Mayhew (Christopher Moynihan), whose character is a plumber, and he quite literally enjoys toilet humor in his routine. Finally there is Tommy Zucarello (Chris O’Dowd), a small town hockey mascot, who decided to make his character a giant fish, since all he wants to do is hit people. Lots of other people filter through for a scene or two – Ed Begley Jr. and Jane Lynch – as the bickering judges, John Michael Higgins and Maria Blasucci as network executives (if you use the word network loosely), Fred Willard, basically being Fred Willard, as a clueless coach, Jennifer Coolidge and Bob Balaban, wasted in a scene or two, etc.
Some of what happens is undeniably funny – I really enjoyed Posey’s delusional character, who has basically choreographed her mascot to be some sort of modern dancer – and her sister, who is so happy when she has to fill in, she doesn’t realize everyone hates the routine. Tom Bennett, so much fun in Love & Friendship earlier this year, is once again a riot as he tries to fight with dad, and gets into some misunderstandings about American life right as the competition is about to get going. I’m not quite sure Chris O’Dowd’s character works – you cannot help but wonder, given the number of times he’s been banned from certain arenas, how he made the finals in the first place – but O’Dowd sells the character as all raging, self-destructive id.
Most intriguing in the film may well by Zach Woods and Sarah Baker as the married couple – although, it must be said that very little of what they do is funny, despite both being gifted comic performers. This is an almost uncomfortably real portray of marital discord – with her passive aggressive behavior finally reaching a boiling point, and his ability to try and put on a happy face cracking from the beginning – the two performances are very good, but you almost wish they were in a different movie.
The final act of the movie is basically the competition itself – with one act after another taking center stage. It’s all very well done, I suppose, if seeing people in giant costumes prancing around is your thing. What’s missing in that last act is the emotional core – the sympathy for the characters – that normally makes a Christopher Guest movie so much more than a silly comedy. Without that, Mascots is still enjoyable to be sure. It misses Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, who are often the emotional core of Guest’s films – but there’s still plenty to like here. But unlike what Guest has done before, Mascots is ultimately rather forgettable – it’s nice to have Guest working again – I just wish the result was a little bit better.