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This Is Spinal Tap (#110 of 5)

Imagining Sisyphus Happy: A Groundhog Day Retrospective

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Imagining Sisyphus Happy: A Groundhog Day Retrospective
Imagining Sisyphus Happy: A Groundhog Day Retrospective

For 16 years, Groundhog Day has been hailed as a meditation on self-redemption. But to pigeonhole it into one overarching theme would be an insult to the layered precision, and perfection, of Harold Ramis’s 1993 masterpiece, which ventures into the heart of darkness and despair to ultimately emerge unharmed, but not unmarked. This story of a man doomed to relive the same day over and over again is not concerned about tomorrow. A true absurdist triumph, it cares not what the destination might be, for it knows that the pursuit of meaning is itself meaningful whether or not that pursuit is eventually rewarded. Life might very well lack purpose, and it might very well be a struggle. But that doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole about it.

A shot of a blue sky (cotton-white clouds floating, lazily, across the screen) opens the film. Every few seconds the shot changes—yet it remains the same. The sky is blue, the clouds as pearly as before and still in their hazy dance, even though they are not the same as the ones from the previous shot. It is a visual metaphor that permeates the rest of the film. That it is intertwined with an otherworldly small town marching band track only adds to the positively Lynchian feel.

Girl Talk and Quiet Desperation: Christopher Guest’s Women

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Girl Talk and Quiet Desperation: Christopher Guest’s Women
Girl Talk and Quiet Desperation: Christopher Guest’s Women

For Your Consideration, the fourth film from Christopher Guest’s floating improv comedy ensemble, has received poor, rather weary reviews. It’s been ten years since their first real effort, Waiting for Guffman (not counting the much earlier This Is Spinal Tap, which has some of the same players). At the time, Guffman felt like something new, a character-based comedy with an underlying sense of the real anxiety behind delusional behavior (it seemed close to the best novels of Dawn Powell). Best in Show, their second movie and probably their funniest from a sheer laugh-measuring point of view, sacrificed some of this gravitas for easier forms of humor: it’s no mistake that it was dominated by Fred Willard’s jovial, inane announcer. In For Your Consideration, Willard tries to graft the same persona onto an Entertainment Tonight-style TV host, and it doesn’t ring true, to put it mildly.

These four Guest films are based almost exclusively on what the actors involved can come up with, and the successes and failures in the series are unusually tied to performance, which is why the actor portraits in Consideration are finally so touching, in spite of the film’s inexact satire and some clumsy work by the company (mainly the men). It is almost always the actresses in Guest’s films who make the biggest impression.