MASCOTS

3 1/2 stars

Christopher Guest has an interesting process for his comedic “mockumentary” films. He and his co-writer create the characters and the premise (here, an annual competition of sports mascots, the Fluffy Awards) and then he casts actors with a flair for improvisation and the ensemble starts filming without a script, or any real rehearsal.

This is my third Guest film (after Best In Show, which Mascots most resembles, and A Mighty Wind) and as before, the most compelling and hilarious part of it are these improvised mock interviews with the characters.  I don’t know if Guest and his (by now familiar) cast members are taking more risks or if I can just see the improvising process a little more readily, but it is really entertaining to watch.  A couple of examples:

Regulars Bob Balaban and Jennifer Coolidge play a rich sponsor of the competition and his wife, and Balaban starts off their interview about how they met by saying: “Well, I was browsing the online personals… the escort section” and you can see Coolidge’s poker face break slightly as her eyes widen.  But, as one does with improv, you take what your partner hands you and double down on it.  By the end of the interview Coolidge drops a hilarious punchline which I won’t spoil for you.

In another scene, John Michael Higgins and a newcomer to the Guest films, Maria Blasucci, start off their scene as visiting producers from the Gluten Free Network to consider whether they might televise next year’s awards.  They trade back and forth, one-upping each other on ever more ridiculous micro-interest TV channels from their resumés until the interview ends on a note that was probably one step too far, but admirable for it’s audacity. You can almost imagine that that scene ended there because Higgins broke character to ask: “Too much?”

Incidentally, in a Canadian angle, Chris O’Dowd plays a hockey mascot from Manitoba whose whole character is a commentary on violence in hockey: “I started out as The Fighting Kangaroo, but gradually I found people responded mainly to the Fighting part.  So I became The Fist.”

Coming to Netflix at some point, so be sure to check it out!

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