I feel like I need to take a shot of something cheap and strong before writing this because it’s such a painful thing to acknowledge, but I’m all out of tequila, so here goes nothing. Christopher Guest’s new mockumentary, Mascots, is not good. This is a tough thing for a fan of Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration (which is much better than you remember) to admit, but it’s the truth. And I’m miserable.
Though Mascots follows the the general narrative beats of WFG, BIS and AMW—we’re introduced to a group of people with specific performance-related passions, we watch them prepare for a big event, a surprise change/substitution occurs at the 11th hour, one person wins, but somehow everyone still loses—it’s a first for Guest in that its subject, professional mascoting, isn’t fun to watch. When these characters put on their elaborate costumes, I not only yawned at their routines, I was never fully convinced they weren’t replaced with other actors/dancers. Compared to the comedic perfection of watching any performance from Red, White and Blaine, a plumber mascot plunging a giant toilet is an actual embarrassment.
But the performances in Guest’s movies are only half the story, and the dullness of the actual mascoting in Mascots would be forgivable if their antics out of costume were entertaining. Unfortunately, each of their personal subplots (of which there are so many, the movie often seems to forget it introduced some) lack that delicate Guestian combination of absurdity and pathos. Newcomers Zach Woods and Sarah Baker (two very funny comedians and improvisors), for example, attempt to recapture the magic of Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock’s unhappily married yuppies from Best In Show, but their marriage, for lack of a better phrase, doesn’t make sense. Nothing in this movie does, really.
Though you almost certainly consider them ridiculous, you can at least understand the motivations behind the actors, dog owners, folk singers, and actors in Guest’s previous movies. In Mascots, it’s never entirely clear why anyone—these people, specifically—would devote this much time to their passions. Why would mascots compete like this? Why would people travel from the UK to attend? Why does The Gluten Free Network (one of the movie’s sad attempts at a running gag) exist? It’s the first of his movies where the world feels utterly and completely fake. Such an crucial part of his humor involves provoking empathy for these characters, but it’s impossible to feel anything for people you don’t believe could actually exist.
The funniest performers from Guest’s previous films are, with one or two exceptions, either tragically (I cannot call this movie a tragedy enough) misused or missing entirely. Parker Posey does the best she can with an uninteresting character. Fred Willard does exactly what we expect in his role as a mascot consultant (or something), filling his screentime with that wild, booming ignorance that made him such a joy in Guest’s other films. Jennifer Coolidge steals her first scene as Bob Balaban’s wife, but how many times must this woman be relegated to intellectually stunted trophy wife? Everyone else—from Jane Lynch to Ed Begley Jr. to John Michael Higgins to Michael Hitchcock to Guest himself—is half present, as though they each recognize the movie they’re making is bad but are willing to go down with the ship.
Mascots gave me a couple laughs, but that’s probably just because I was desperate to give it some. Despite the fact that it is, by and large, unfunny and forgettable, I do recommend that fans of the crew’s earlier films give it a watch. The tragic failure of Mascots is exactly what makes it—in a way—essential viewing. After 90 minutes of disappointment, it’s hard not to appreciate the lightning Guest was able to trap in a bottle not just once, but four times.
Mascots is streaming on Netflix now.