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.
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!)