Movie of the Week: Waiting for Guffman

Before Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003), there was Waiting for Guffman (1996). I remember reading mixed reviews for Guffman when it came out, but now that I’ve seen the movie, I think the critics I read did not appreciate Christopher Guest’s inspired improv mockumentary film style. What a pity.

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Waiting for Guffman is the story of an amateur theater group who performs a musical about the history of boring Blaine, MO, for its sesquicentennial celebrations. Christopher Guest plays Corky St. Clair, a transplant from New York City and the creative force behind the play. We watch as he finds his cast and directs them in song and dance.  The news that a representative from a theater company in NYC, Mort Guffman, is coming to see the show results in outsized dreams of taking their play to Broadway. Determined to do the town proud, Corky asks the city council for $100,000, and his response to their answer is one of many moments in which the production seems doomed to fail.

As always, Guest surrounds himself with a stellar cast, including co-writer Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard. He also teamed up once again with Michael McKean and Harry Shearer to write songs for the musical that are both parodies and great music in their own right, just as they did for This is Spinal Tap. As music teacher Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban) conducted the overture for Red, White, and Blaine, I was concerned that the music was actually too good for the intent of the movie. Certainly, the comedy is still there, as the overture is ambitious and dramatic, and requires the trumpet player to simultaneously play the timpani, but it’s no surprise when the audience applauds with enthusiasm. I wanted to applaud myself. The movie includes the entire musical as well as a follow-up to show us where the stars are three months after their stage triumph.

The improv style of the humor in both the parodied musical and the interviews is dry and quirky, which I love. I did not for a moment forget that the actors were improving with intention, and it made the movie that much more enjoyable to me. I love to see actors having a good time.

I found Waiting for Guffman just as original and just as funny as Best in Show and A Mighty Wind.  If you haven’t seen it yet, treat yourself to an hour and a half of fun. (And keep your eye out for the Remains of the Day Lunchbox. Get yours today!)

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Kit Dunsmore

Kit Dunsmore has believed in the magic underlying the muggle world since she was a child searching for the Shetland pony pooka she was sure was hiding in her back yard. She learned early on that books were magic doors into other worlds, and that she could revisit a beloved character or place by opening the right book. As she grew, she decided she wanted to make magic with words, too. Today Kit writes about things she loves: poodles and dragons, witches and artists, quirky underdogs and loyal friends. Whether her setting is 6th-century England, the imaginary Twelve Kingdoms, or an art-obsessed version of modern America, magic always finds its way into her story. She enjoys turning fairy tales inside out and watching characters sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but she also believes in happy endings. When she isn't writing, Kit experiences magic by making things with her hands. Over the years, she's made quilts, fabric sculptures, collages, sweaters, and blank books. Her newest interest is learning how to spin her own yarn, a skill guaranteed to strengthen one of her many delusions: that she is a self-sufficient pioneer woman. She also thinks she is a hobbit, a witch, an artist, and a good cook. Living in the foothills of Colorado, Kit enjoys the giant skies and prairie landscapes which suit her need for wide open spaces. In addition to hiking through glorious scenery with her husband or imagining herself living in the Middle Ages, Kit works as a pillow for her miniature poodle and polishes the next small piece of her handmade life.

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