The documentary genre has been spoofed countless times through the sub-genre “Mockumentary”. It is a film that takes on almost every aspect of a documentary film except for the documentary part. Often these movies lampoon different industries or people groups. My absolute favorite Mockumentary (and one of my favorite comedies, for that matter) is This is Spinal Tap; a film that follows a fake British heavy metal rock band on their tour around the United States. Spinal Tap was the first in a series of Mockumentary films written by Christopher Guest, each tackling a different sub-culture, but largely consisting of the same cast. in Waiting for Guffman we’re introduced to the small town of Blaine Missouri as they are preparing for their 150th anniversary celebration. The highlight of the festivities is a musical production being written and directed by Corky St. Claire ( Christopher Guest), a flamboyant resident who claims to have vast amounts of experience in the industry. While looking for his leading man, Corky settles upon the nearsighted dentist Dr. Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy, who also co-wrote the film). As the hype for the production begins to build, the entire town becomes engrossed with the fame that accompanies such a prestigious production; Corky is revered to an almost deistic level. When news breaks that a big play critic will be attending the show, emotions and tensions soar as the pressure of impressing the titular “Guffman” becomes all important.
I mentioned that Eugene Levy co-wrote the film, which is true, but something to be noted about Guest’s movies is how much of it is improvised. The majority of this film, as well as all the others written by Guest use the same cast, no doubt because of the chemistry they have with each other. Each person is able to play off of the other flawlessly. The unscripted nature of the film adds to the realism of it’s fake documentary style. The humor is dead-pan (a style that Levy particularly excels at). Rather than focusing on one or two major characters, the film gives adequate time to all those involved, a feat that is impressive, especially due to the films short run time. The characters are believable to the point that one could see this happening in their own town. A mismatched rag-tag bunch of people whose heads become incredibly puffed up with thoughts of grandeur, all spear-headed by Corky St. Claire.
If Guests earlier movies struggled in anything it was pacing. While Spinal Tap remains my favorite of his films, there were portions of it that seemed to drag. This is not the case with Guffman. The actors and the editing come together in an excellently paced stride to bring a hilarious story at an excellent pace. The speed and wit of the actors in their improvisation is both incredible and believable. funny comments turn into hilarious conversations with the correct response from a fellow actor.
It’s a small genre that doesn’t see much light in the mainstream, but Mockumentaries have plenty to offer, especially when done so well. If you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, I would recommend starting with Guffman as it is the most consistently funny, boasts an incredible cast and is an example of how the genre is supposed to look and feel. Comedy in general is tough to pull off, and something of this caliber could have easily become one big inside joke to the cast and crew, a movie that only a handful find funny; however all the elements came together to make a genuinely hilarious movie.
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