If you’ve seen any of Christopher Guest’s previous mockumentaries – from Waiting for Guffman through to For Your Consideration – then you’ll probably know what to expect with his latest, Mascots. Guest has again chosen an odd little area of culture, this time competitive ‘mascotting’, and built a highly amusing film around it.
Joining Guest for Mascots are a number of familiar faces from his previous films – including Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch – and Guest himself even appears as a character from Waiting for Guffman, but he’s also added some new actors to his repertory company. Perhaps the most well known of these is Chris O’Dowd, who appears as a Canadian mascot, The Fist, and whose character drinks heavily and appears to have anger problems. Whilst his stage show as The Fist near the end, is somewhat amusing – all the mascots are competing in an annual mascotting competition known as the Fluffies – his character is actually the weakest of the selection we encounter, with little humour generated out of him being aggressive and sexually inappropriate. It’s a shame, as he gets quite a lot of screen time and yet few laughs. Compare this with the brilliance of Fred Willard as Greg Gammons, Jr., for instance, who manages to get more laughs out of one incredibly awkward but hilarious conversation than we get from The Fist throughout the entire film.
This is one of the advantages of Guest’s approach here though, which sees him give time to a large number of different characters, so that even if a few don’t entirely work or illicit lots of laughs, others do. Posey and Coolidge are unsurprising highlights, seemingly relishing the chance to dive into new Guest creations and give it all they can. Posey’s turn as the earnest dancer who mascots as Alvin the Armadillo – she considers mascotting to be a serious extension of interpretative dance – makes for some wonderful juxtapositions between seriousness and silliness, and plenty of moments of brilliantly deadpan humour.
Perhaps the strongest characters, both with regards to humour and something a little deeper, are actually three actors new to working with Christopher Guest. Zach Woods and Sarah Baker play a married couple with the same kind of fractured awkwardness that made Posey and Michael Hitchock’s characters in Best in Show so hilarious and painful to watch, and Tom Bennet – last seen in Whit Stillman’s glorious Love and Friendship – is perhaps the film’s greatest star, with the richest story of all those competing and some of the funniest moments to boot. When Bennet’s Owen Golly Jr. performs a routine his father tells him not to in the final competition, it’s actually incredibly tense, but also funny and a little touching.
For the most part though, Mascots really is business as usual for Guest, and whilst there’s certainly something to be said for, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, it’s alas hard not to be constantly reminded of Guest’s other films when watching this latest one. When compared to something as hilarious, touching and gripping as Best in Show, Mascots does come up a little short. But it’s an entertaining and often very funny movie, and one that still has some really delightful surprises throughout.