[film] American Movie
The mockumentary is like reality TV’s sophisticated older cousin. It understands and embraces the voyeuristic appeal of watching “real” people, but doesn’t abandon wit, nuance and plot in the process. This odd, underappreciated gem is a fine example of the genre—at once broadly comedic and subtly subversive. It follows the travails of a mentally unstable wannabe filmmaker who has maxed out his credit cards and strained his family’s goodwill to the breaking point in an effort to produce his magnum opus, an unintentionally campy horror flick called Coven. Set against the drab, icy backdrop of northwest Milwaukee, the film takes a clueless, moribund character who is the source of his own misery and endows him with something approaching likability. How uniquely American.
[film] Waiting for Guffman
Christopher Guest and his ever-expanding group of improvisational actors have made a career out of lampooning singular, insulated worlds populated by people who think far too highly of themselves—arena rock (This is Spinal Tap), kennel club dog shows (Best in Show), folk music (A Mighty Wind) and even independent film (For Your Consideration). Perhaps the most sublime and gut-bustingly hilarious of Guest and company’s creations follows a regional theater troupe as they rehearse a show and prepare for the arrival of the titular critic, who they imagine is their ticket to Broadway glory. The laughs are spread evenly among the cast, which includes Fred Willard as a pompous leading man, Eugene Levy as an awkward physician, Parker Posey as a gum-popping Dairy Queen waitress and Guest himself as effeminate director Corky St. Clair, whose haircut alone elicits guffaws. As Corky might say: “It’s a Zen thing—like how many babies fit in a tire.”
[DVD] The Office
Though the longer-running American remake has had more sustained excellence, credit must be given to the original British version of this groundbreaking situation comedy. The conceit: A camera crew sets up shop at a paper supply company, offering the viewer a fly-on-the-wall peek into the lives, romantic entanglements and power struggles of an eclectic, downtrodden collection of cubicle jockeys. Most of the action orbits around cartoonishly arrogant regional manager David Brent. As played by the razor sharp Ricky Gervais, Brent is the kind of guy who not only puts his foot in his mouth, but likes the way it tastes. This is a show that’s all about small moments: pithy asides, rambling confessionals, awkward silences (and there are a lot of those). It both demands and rewards multiple viewings, which is more than can be said for most half-hour television comedies. MTW