WAITING FOR GUFFMAN directed by Christopher Guest

When New York theater veteran Corky St. Clair left New York and sashayed into Blaine, MO, he initially harbored fantasies of becoming a construction worker or wearing chaps and a hardhat and working on a telephone pole. Instead the flamboyant and effeminate Corky (Christopher Guest) settles for a job as the high school drama teacher and the founder of the Blaine Players proceeds to wow the inhabitants of the small town with productions of Barefoot In The Park and Backdraft. Now in the year of Blaine's sesquicentennial, Corky faces his greatest challenge with the production of a theatrical tribute to the history of Blaine (regarded as “the stool capital of the world”!).

Waiting for Guffman hilariously documents the making of “Red, White and Blaine” from its inception as Corky struggles with all of the attendant creative decisions which, as he puts it “becomes a wrastlin' match between me and the muse of theater,” through to the play's opening night.

The assembled cast includes the town dentist, Dr. Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy), who's always “loved breaking people up”; Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), a worker at the local Dairy Queen seemingly resigned to the idea of a life of small town boredom; the town travel agents Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara) whom Corky lovingly refers to as his workhorses, the “Lunts of Blaine” for their past roles in Blaine Players productions.

Over the course of the film the viewer follows the strident troupe through months of rehearsals, artistic obstacles and a few cast upheavals to the day of the big show. Like its predecessor This Is Spinal Tap, (also written by Guest) Guest uses the style of the documentary (a “mockumentary”) to tell his story. Although the subject matter might not be as immediately appealing as Spinal Tap's, Guffman actually succeeds in topping it in terms of pace and humor.

The motley cast of thespians and the corny concept of the play itself make the viewer disinclined to believe that the outcome of Corky's project will amount to anything better than laughable. But Guest adds miles of charm by removing the predictability of the cliché. Opening night reveals a final play that is amateurish in many respects and not without its clams but actually quite good—with a few musical numbers that are surprisingly catchy. There are too many brilliant and hilarious moments to document (you'll want to watch Corky's “dance sequence” while he's brainstorming the play's choreography, multiple times). Guffman expertly pokes fun at a wide spectrum of stereotypes but does so with subtlety and reverence. This is truly one of the most spot-on comedies I've seen in years.

-C. Jaeger


This review originally appeared in Your Flesh #37

Filed Under: Film-DVD-VideoFilm-DVD-Video Reviews

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