It’s always a glorious day in the Samuelsen home when we learn that Christopher Guest has released a new mockumentary. Starting with This is Spinal Tap (1984), in which he acted but did not direct, and continuing with the films he both wrote, directed and starred in: Waiting For Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), For Your Consideration (2006), Guest has created a bitter-sweet comedic body of work that stands up to the test of time, as funny and human as anything done anywhere by anybody. I mustn’t neglect the TV series Family Tree (2013), which I loved, but which wasn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the movies have been. Now comes Mascots, just released on Netflix. I’d say it’s B+ Guest, funny and heartbreaking, but perhaps not quite as profound as the very best of his work: Guffman, Show, and Wind.
The Guest method has been refined to perfection. He starts off with a setting–a community musical, a dog show, a folk music revival concert. We meet dozens of brilliantly rendered and eccentric characters attached in some way to that event, drawn, usually, from the same extraordinary pool of actors. They improvise scenes and monologues while the camera rolls, and then Guest and his editors put it all together. In the case of Mascots, it’s an international sports mascot competition.
I missed Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean and Eugene Levy, Guest regulars. But Guest made up for it by reprising his role as Corky St. Clair, the sublimely inept director/playwright/actor from Waiting for Guffman. He’s back, mentoring Parker Posey’s Cindi Babineaux, a superbly avant-garde Alvin the Armadillo mascot, with tire tracks all over her costume, and a cheerleader-overcome-by-l’ennui affected cheering pose. She’s just a spectacular creation, exactly what we can imagine Libby Mae Brown (Posey’s character from Guffman) becoming under Corky’s tutelage. And she partners with her half-sister, Laci (Susan Yeagley), who chews gum incessantly, even when seducing fellow mascots in elevators.
I was also entranced by Zach Woods and Sarah Baker, playing Michael and Mindy Murray, Ollie the Octopus and Tammy the Turtle, baseball playing mascots, whose act, at times, reveals a deeply seated mutual hostility as their otherwise cheery marriage unravels. Both Woods and Baker were brilliant–an oh-so-happy couple, with, uh, issues. And it was thrilling to see Tom Bennett again, who was so wonderful as a dopey aristocrat in Love and Friendship. Here, he’s Owen Golly (pronounced Jolly), a soccer loving Hedgehog mascot, a role he inherited from his Dad and Granddad. Bennett gets less funny things to do and say than some of the other characters, and makes more of them–I fell in love with the whole Golly clan. There’s also Christopher Moynihan, as Phil, a Plumber mascot, who comes complete with a prop toilet, and a Turd sidekick. And finally Chris O’Dowd as Tommy, a massively aggressive mascot called The Fist. He’s just a big Fist. His sport is hockey, and he proudly declares he’s been banned from six different venues.
Also included are Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. as judges–winners get a Fluffy; that’s what they call the main prize. And Jennifer Coolidge and Bob Balaban as the wealthy couple, the Lumpkins, who underwrite the event. And John Michael Higgins as a representative from the Gluten Free Network, TV producers who might be willing to broadcast future Fluffys. And finally, the immortal Fred Willard, who brings his astounding cluelessness to bear as a mascot coach fascinated by little people. (“Did they make you this size so you could fit in the worm costume?”)
Is it as good a movie as Waiting for Guffman? No. Is it better–certainly funnier–than any other movie playing in town right now? Absolutely. Netflix streaming, folks. Christopher Guest is back.