Waiting for Guffman (1996) Movie Review

1996’s “Waiting for Guffman” began writer/director/actor Christopher Guest’s mockumentary line of movies. After “Guffman” there was “Best in Show”, about dogs and their owners at a dog show, and the recent “A Mighty Wind”. All 3 movies have essentially the same cast, consisting of regulars Larry Miller, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Eugene Levy. Others come and go, but the idea is the same: gifted actors let loose with their own improvisational material built around a single idea developed by Guest.

In the case of “Guffman”, the idea is that Blaine, a small Missouri town founded when the town’s ancestors got lost on their way to California, is celebrating its 150-year anniversary. To mark the occasion Larry Miller’s mayor has hired Corky St. Clair (Guest), an ex-off-off-off-off-off Broadway director to put on a play. Corky is a closeted gay man, but no one seems to realize this even though Corky mind as well run around with a shirt that reads, “I’m really, really gay”.

In order to put on the show, Corky auditions local talent. He hires Sheila and Ron Albertson (O’Hara and Willard, respectively), Blaine’s only semi-professional actors. The Albertsons are travel agents who have never been beyond the town limits. Also joining the cast is dentist Allan Pearl (Levy), who likes to fake a bad “Indian” voice. There’s also nubile Dairy Queen employee Libby Mae (Posey), who dreams of stardom, and studly Johnny Savage (Matt Keeslar), who Corky has an eye for.

The scripted sequences in “Guffman” are not easy to tell apart from their improvisational counterparts. One gets the feeling that there wasn’t actually a script, just a general plot outline that the actors were given and allowed to run with. Besides being founded by people who couldn’t reach California, Blaine also counts itself as the UFO capital of the world. David Cross has a brief, but very funny, cameo as a UFO expert who can’t count. Another hilarious scene is when Corky goes to the Mayor and demands $100,000 to put on the show so he can impress a New York producer (a man name Guffman, from the title).

“Guffman” is a very funny movie, with a constant flow of jokes, gags, and hilarious double entendres. The film is chock full of dialogue that could be construed in so many ways, some of which gets to the very essence of these very bad actors who believes they actually have talent. In another funny scene, Willard reveals to Levy during dinner at a Chinese restaurant that he had penis reduction because his wife wouldn’t get a vagina enlargement. These are all good stuff that comes out of left field and works so well that they couldn’t possibly have been written beforehand. Or could they? One of the best part of a movie like “Guffman” is trying to guess what was scripted and what was made up on the spot.

Like “Best in Show”, “Guffman” is what’s being called a “mockumentary”. That is, a farcical comedy in the guise of a serious documentary. The film is shot from the point of view of an unseen, unheard, and unknown cameraman. The characters constantly sit down for “interviews” like the kind you would see on news magazine shows. But of course the whole thing is played for laughs, and you’ll never mistake “Guffman” for a real documentary. That is, unless you’re really dense.

Christopher Guest (director)
CAST: Christopher Guest …. Corky St. Clair
Fred Willard …. Ron
Catherine O’Hara …. Sheila
Parker Posey …. Libby Mae Brown

Buy Waiting for Guffman on DVD