A Brief Introduction to Christopher Guest

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NAT YORSKI – Montreal

It’s been a busy few months for me, I’ve had a lot going on both personally and professionally. I’ve been trying to get healthier and my mind has generally been in a state of constant overload. I’m out of the loop, perhaps in an entirely different loop altogether, and any worthwhile TV released in recent months has flown right over my head. It took me three months to watch Stranger Things for God’s sake. That being said, I was still able to catch one of Netflix’s most underrated announcements and one of the most exciting new projects to fall under it’s original content umbrella: Mascots.

If you’ve ever cringed at Steve Carell’s antics on The Office, laughed at the situational absurdity of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, or shared the perfect Ron Swanson meme, then you have Christopher Guest to thank. After a 10-year hiatus, the writer/director/actor finally brings us a new full-length movie in his iconic mockumentary style.

To be clear, Guest didn’t invent the mockumentary style, which as the name suggests is a type of film that parodies a specific demographic or subject matter through the same methods, and in the cinematographic style of, a documentary. This style of comedy was around in the early 30s through radio programs, but the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969) are probably two of the earliest and more popular versions of this method. However, it was Christopher Guest that popularized a new wave of the genre through This is Spinal Tap in 1984. If you consider yourself a music lover and/or you have any experience in performance but have never heard of or seen Spinal Tap, I am urging you to drop what you are doing and find the nearest copy and watch it. It’s easily one of the funniest movies of its time.

Like a lot of Indie directors (e.g. Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino) each one of Guests’ films has a great recurring cast that includes great names: Catherine O’Hara, Don Lake, Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, and Eugene Levy. Guest relies on the strength of his actors as his films are highly improvisational, and this is what makes his style so unique. He doesn’t write dialogue for his actors, but instead gives them a basic character outline, a scene, and a loose plot to follow. The results are not just funny but the characters become considerably more honest, making the movies almost painful to watch. His films present characters whose personalities are composed of equal parts passion and delusion, and this is is where we can see the Michael Scotts, Ron Swansons, and Larry Davids of our modern television era.

After Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest began writing with Eugene Levy (perhaps most memorable in his role as Jim’s Dad in American Pie) and made a series of great comedies like Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, and my personal favourite, Waiting for Guffman, each exploring everything from dog shows and obsessive dog owners to folk reunion tours, the road for Oscar hopefuls, and small-town theatre personalities wanting to make it big.

Guests’ newest endeavour follows a fictional mascot competition where the world’s best costumed cheerleaders compete for glory. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Guest, Mascots is not the best introduction to his work. It isn’t his best writing, and it isn’t necessarily the funniest thing he has come up with, nor does the script really do any of the actors any favours.

Mascots does, however, bring us back to our modern-day comedic roots, serving as a wistful reminder of our evolution. Sure, it’s not as nostalgic as watching a Charlie Chaplin or a Marx brothers’ film, but Guest’s work did pave the way for the type of almost unanimously loved comedy that we enjoy today. It showcases the talents of not just a great writer and director but also the natural talents of some very good actors. It’s a shame that Guest’s comeback fell flat but it gives us an excuse to revisit his old works and laugh all over again.

Nat Yorski is the effervescent and unapologetic female voice of The Coost. With her love of music and her second love of telling people what’s what, she spends most of her time playing with puppets and signing karaoke to her dog.

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