(USA, 89 min.)
Dir. Christopher Guest, Writ. Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Starring: Sarah Baker, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr., Tom Bennett, Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Jane Lynch, Christopher Moynihan, Chris O’Dowd, Jim Piddock, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Susan Yeagley
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Christopher Guest dislikes the word “mockumentary,” but he’s arguably the master of the cinema’s equivalent to docu-fiction. Guest excels while playing with documentary form and improvisational humour. He has a hilarious way of exposing the constructions of documentary while capturing the outrageous behaviour that occurs when a director puts people before a camera. After turning things up to 11 as part of the ensemble in the ultimate mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, Guest ushered in a new kind of comedy with the community theatre farce Waiting for Guffman, the dog show satire Best in Show, and the music doc parody A Mighty Wind, the influence of which is clear in documentary-style sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Recreation. The director returns with his new film Mascots and while it’s basically Best in Show with sports cheerleaders instead of prized pooches, this entry in the Guest canon is doggone funny.
Mascots seamlessly toys with documentary form as Guest introduces a chorus of competitive mascots from high schools, colleges, and farm teams from around the world. The film features off-the-cuff interviews with the characters and riotous moments of faux-verité as handheld camerawork observes the furry clad mascots in their natural habitat. The film then adopts the new fad of “reality” based entertainment as Guest shoots the film’s titular competition much like a network series in the vein of So You Think You Can Dance or American Idol. The sequences feature fluid cinematography with dollies and cranes as the mascots perform their obviously staged routines
Many of the usual members of the Guest ensemble return to play the delightful furries, including Parker Posey as Cindy, aka Andy the Armadillo, who rouses the crowd with some funky modern dance moves. Cindy’s top rivals for the Golden Fluffy include a British hedgehog (Tom Bennett), a husband and wife duo (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker), a plumber mascot who “moonlights” as a real estate agent (Christopher Moynihan) and a chorus of the usual eccentrics one expects in the Guest canon.
Guest fans will also enjoy the return of Corky St. Clair, the eccentric theatre director played by the mockumentary auteur in Waiting for Guffman. St. Clair reappears after a long winter’s nap wearing fancier pants than ever before as he coaches Cindy and her dreams of stardom. His brief appearance is very funny and a warm reminder of a friendly character one hasn’t seen in years.
Mascots somewhat suffers from the absence of Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. The actors are the greatest assets of A Mighty Wind, but were unavailable due to conflicts with the CBC sitcom Schitt’s Creek. Guest regulars Parker Posey and Jane Lynch are arguably best in this film as Posey relishes the carefree zaniness of Cindy, while Lynch has a lot of fun playing it straight as an uptight competition judge. Woods and Baker fill the roles of the Cookie and Gerry Fleck placebos well enough with their awkward humour, and the freshness of new faces helps the film avoid retreads from Guest’s earlier work.
The actors have a lot of fun growing their characters and creating their personalities as Guest allows them ample room to play and riff. The film’s improvisational style affords an air of spontaneity that aids the mockumentary’s sense of immediacy, while the lengths to which Guest allows them to draw out their repartee uses the perceived realism of documentary form to accentuate the satire. As the characters embellish their backstories, the spark between the actors, particularly Posey and Susan Yeagley as Cindy’s sister Lacey, is a hilarious joy to watch as genuine energy fuels the funniness on both sides of the interviews.
Mascots might be a work of straightforward fiction, but the mockumentary form arguably captures the pleasure of creative performance. As the actors develop their characters with the cameras rolling, imagining lines and dialogue from the mouths of their onscreen personalities, they become positively POV in their “recreations” of exciting doc characters.
-Saturday, Sept. 17 at 9:15 PM at Ryerson Theatre
TIFF runs Sept. 8 – 18. Please visit tiff.net for more information.