Mascots (2016)

Director: Christopher Guest
Writers: Christopher Guest & Jim Piddock
Cinematographer: Kris Kachikis
Composer: Jeffery C.J. Vanston
Cast: Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, Oscar Nunez, Harry Shearer.

Mascots would be a fine, if forgettable, little indie comedy if it weren’t for Christopher Guest, the writer and director of the movie. With him behind the camera this film reads as very disappointing – especially for those, like me, who are enormous fans of his other films. If you’ve watched, and loved, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, then you’ve been waiting ten years for the next film in Guest’s mockumentary saga, utilizing his brilliant roster of amazingly funny and talented cast members. For some reason, though, two of those cast members do not show up in Mascots. Both Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara had appeared in all four other films, and not only were they central characters in each film, but a case could be made that they were the beating heart of all of them, and had they not been in those films, perhaps the films would not have been as successful or hilarious. They are sorely missed here. As is also Michael McKean, another dependable stalwart who does not show up. The only Spinal Tap member, aside from Guest, who is even featured in the film is Harry Shearer, who never even shows up on camera, instead only serving as the disembodied voice of the presenter – a totally useless part, given that nothing interesting is done with his talent, as he simply introduces each act.

All this to say is that something in sorely missing in Guest’s new film. The cast is large, as it was in all his previous films, but while in those the story flowed and each character felt real and complete, this movie felt directionless and not one character in the film stands out or feels like a real human being with passion, direction, or purpose. The film is incredibly similar in story and structure to Best in Show, perhaps my favorite comedy of all time, but it has none of its magic. That’s not to say that the film is unwatchable or that it doesn’t have its funny moments, I did chuckle a few times, but it was a big let down, as my expectations are higher from this caliber of people in front of and behind the camera.

As the title suggests, the film takes place in the world of sports mascots. Not big name mascots, mind you -which probably would have made for a better film with higher stakes-, but extreme minor leagues: community collages and high schools. We are introduced to several competitors who hope for the golden trophy by the end of the competition. But while Best in Show had competitors we truly believed to be passionate about canines, Mascots seems to be populated by a more hipstery vibe, people who are in it ironically, begrudgingly, nobody seems like they really care for the “art”, just the prize, if that. There is an overall feeling of lost innocence in the film, and it’s also raunchier than all the others, for absolutely no reason. Why is there a five second scene in a strip club? Who the hell knows. Even the competition was bizarre and reminded me of the over the top episodes in Glee when the kids would go to regionals. Just tonally all over the place.

A lot of Guest’s usual actors do show up in this film. Guest himself revisits the character that began it all, Corky St. Clair from Waiting for Guffman – but the character basically amounts to a cameo, and while a closeted midwestern artiste was funny twenty years ago, now it just reads as kinda sad. The film is so bizarre in structure that even those who are given more screen time feel like cameos as well. Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., John Michael Higgins, and Jennifer Coolidge all show up, but aside from a handful of lines, they don’t have much to do. Perhaps it’s also because the second half of the movie is the competition, and since the mascots are all wearing masks, we are not invested in any character, but rather end up just watching a mediocre show, focusing on the least interesting part of any sports game. I assumed that the moment the mask came on that a professional took over, so I didn’t imagine Parker Posey with an armadillo on her face, or Chris O’Dowd with a giant fist on his head rollerblading across a stage, but a dancer or stuntman taking over. And what’s fun about that? What’s the point?

Every time I watched a Christopher Guest movie in the past, I was wholly satisfied with the experience. That tension of wether there would be a kiss at the end of the rainbow? Would Guffman ever show up? Who would win the canine competition? Would “Home for Thanksgiving” get an Oscar nomination? I was invested in all of these films and the stories being told. I believed the characters, even if they were ridiculous and over the top, because they made sense in these specific worlds. I wanted to see more of everyone (especially Jennifer Coolidge, who never gets enough screen time in my opinion). This time around I just wanted it all to be over. It was joyless, lifeless, and with characters who just hate each other so much, why should we feel any different?

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