Christopher Guest will always be our Nigel Tufnel, turning his amps up to 11 in This Is Spinal Tap and dreaming, vaguely, of another career, perhaps as a shoe salesman. That 1984 rock classic marked Guest in a profound way: The films he went on to direct, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, all bear the same improvisatory process. If Guest didn’t invent the mockumentary, he’s sure come to own it (and it him, it must be said).
Mascots, the director’s first feature in a decade, shows Guest completely unchanged, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re a fan of his expert troupe of actors, most of whom return to the fold. The movie concerns those people who don cartoonish costumes at sporting events. Naturally, they take their passion very seriously, including the guy who becomes a giant fist at hockey games (Chris O’Dowd), deploying an inflatable middle finger at key moments. There’s also Parker Posey’s bargain-basement Mississippi armadillo and Christopher Moynihan’s soulful plumber who, in the film’s most shocking moment, does performative battle with a bowel movement. An annual contest brings them all under the judging glare of Jane Lynch.
Guest’s real subject, redemptively, is loneliness and marital discord; his losers yearn for the company of each other (even if they also want to kill each other). That’s best captured here by barely civil couple Zach Woods and Sarah Baker, who use their costumes as an expression of hatred. Unable to divorce yet also unable to kiss (they squirm their faces together like Sigourney Weaver and the acid-dripping alien), these two characters could have justified their own movie. Sometimes Guest’s films stray into snobbery against flyover country, but Mascots mostly avoids that. It hides its toxic warfare under a furry guise.
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