In "Waiting for Guffman," Corky St. Clair, the spirited community theater director of Blaine, MO, explodes in anger when his plea for an extra $100,000 to mount a musical about the 150th anniversary of their small, stool-making town gets laughed off by local leaders.
"This is my life here we’re talking about!” St. Clair rants before launching into some creative profanity and vowing to go home and "bite my pillow!"
The scene works, thanks not only to St. Clair's uproarious overreaction, but due to the pride and desperation fueling his fury: He sees an opportunity to bring Blaine to Broadway and can't understand why others don't share his vision.
By turns gut-busting and heartbreaking, the segment from the 1996 comedy is vintage Christopher Guest, who gave life to Corky and films from "Guffman" to "Best in Show" to "A Mighty Wind." Guest, with his looks at community theater, dog shows and niche folk music, tackles subculture passion projects where the stakes are seemingly low, but the laughs are high (even if they’re grounded by a light undercurrent of pathos).
Corky St. Clair – and Guest – ride again Thursday with "Mascots," the filmmaker’s take on the people inside the fuzzy, big-headed costumes at sporting events. Guest’s return, via Netflix, is a comedy event worth cheering.
His movies – beginning with the Rob Reiner-directed 1984 classic "This is Spinal Tap," in which Guest co-starred as heavy metal band lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel – are largely improvised, giving them both their quirk and patina of authenticity.
The rotating band of Guest regulars – among them “Mascots” players Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Ed Begley, Jr., Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge and John Michael Higgins – provide expert comic timing to jumpstart the gently askew heart of the director’s greatest efforts.
But Guest is wise to bring some equally talented younger actors into the “Mascots” fold, including Chris O’Dowd and Tom Bennett, who starred in his bittersweet 2013 HBO series "Family Tree."
Sure, the story of Tom Chadwick’s (O’Dowd) search for his roots on both sides of the Atlantic offered some new offbeat characters (and a pantomime horse race that perhaps presaged "Mascots"). But it also packed a compelling emotion core with its longing search for what makes us who we are.
Guest, at his best, somehow makes us care about oddballs trying to live out modest, hope-fired dreams, whether or not we admit to seeing ourselves in their stories.
As far removed as most of us may be from the world of "Mascots," there’s likely to be much to recognize: Life, like any Christopher Guest production, is an improvisation that usually works out okay as long as we don’t let big heads get in the way.