Reader bella took me to task for a bit of accidental meanness at the end of my review of Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration.
The main point of my post was that Guest had been cruel to his characters in the film. Bella wrote:
It's hardly fair to bash Guest for meanness and then close with the comment that his cast is getting "long in the tooth". That's mean.
Yep. It was. But I swear, bella, I wasn't being deliberately mean. What was I was being was deliberately lazy. I was looking for a quick way out of the post while at the same time pointing out an added benefit of having Ricky Gervais' appear in the film, besides the fact that he's just so darn good, and avoiding going off on another tangent that would add twelve more paragraphs to the post.
I opted for the pithy cliche and hoped people would understand what I meant. Which wasn't that I think Guest's company of players are a bunch of doddering geriatrics who should be farmed out to assisted living centers before they're allowed to make another movie together. Far from it. In many ways, the core of Guest's company---Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, Guest himself---are at the top of their games. O'Hara, particularly, is brilliant in For Your Consideration, even after the point where Guest turns her into a repulsive clown. But the fact is---opting here for another pithy cliche---they're no spring chickens.
Even Parker Posey, the one regular who is under 40, isn't that young. She's 38. The prime of life for an actress, but that makes her a leading lady now, she's no longer an ingenue, and the trouble here is that Guest has no ingenues in his company, no juveniles, (the ingenue and the juvenile are the young lovers, the sweet young things in a play or movie), and no leading men or other leading ladies for Posey to play off of.
This isn't a criticism of the players themselves. It's a problem for Guest if he's going to keep making movies. Without any sweet young things, without any leading men, and with a single leading lady whom Guest has not used as a leading lady in the movies she's done for him, Guest has cut-off himself off from including in his stories a major part of life, that part that includes love and sex.
You can fill the comments with tales of the sweetness of late middle-aged love and how people can have satisfying sex lives well into their eighties, and you're right, but I'm not being dismissive. The truth is, though, that the adventure of sex and love, the real drama, is the property of the young. Love stories are stories about the beginning of life, they're about people getting their lives off the ground, and the reason they're important, besides the fact that their future happiness depends on their making the right choices about who to pair up with and what career path to follow, is that by getting together the young lovers are keeping the society together, re-making it, making it new.
Without any young people in his company, Guest can't tell stories about the beginning of life. He can only focus on its close. I haven't seen A Mighty Wind yet, but I've been assured---I know, Mike. I know, Fuzzy. I'll get to it. I swear.---he does a beautiful job in it of dealing with just that, the closing of lives. But how many times can he pull that off? For Your Consideration is the story of the closing of two lives and, believe me, it's not funny.
And without leading men and leading women, Guest can't tell stories about the adventure of being alive.
Leading men and women are in the primes of their lives. They are at their best physically and mentally, although not necessarily emotionally, they aren't yet wise, and its from their lack of wisdom that comedy and tragedy arise. But their most important quality is that they are established. They have their careers underway, they are where (they think) they want to be, and therefore they don't have to care. They can take chances. They are free to be heroic.
They can be open to anything, including love and sex. They don't need to fall in love. They've either had their big love affairs or learned to get along without romance, but that's why when they do fall in love, they fall hard. It's a total shock to their systems. It upends everything.
Leading ladies and leading men are much sexier than ingenues and juveniles just because sex is a problem for them not the solution.
Without any actors in their primes, Guest can't have adventures in his stories, even of the mildest office romance sort. Without adventure, there's no energy.
He's also missing another type of character, who doesn't necessarily have to be young, but who is most effective when he or she is a counterpart to the leading man or woman, a character who is often the villain or at least an adversary.
Ancient Greek and Roman comedies, and the Italian commedia dell'arte that took its form and tropes from them, had a set of stock characters who appeared in every play. The young lovers; the wily servants, male and female; the unreliable, comic servants, who were either dumb or scared or too loyal to their masters or all three and who consequently got in the way; the old man, usually a father-figure, who sometimes thought of himself as a young lover but who was in any case an obstacle to the young lovers getting together; the termagant, the older woman who bossed everybody else around; and the braggart.
The braggart is the character with power. Often that power is only the power to beat everybody else up. But usually it's the power that comes from wealth, status, good fortune, and ego. The braggart thinks too highly of himself because he has good reason to think highly of himself. He throws his weight around because he has weight to throw around.
He used to be called the miles glorioso, and in A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum, in which that is his name, Miles Glorioso, he sings the braggart's anthem, "I Am My Ideal."
I'm saying he here because in those old comedies he was always a he. But he often reappears in more contemporary comedy as woman. Think of Sigourney Weaver's character in Working Girl.
The old folks are obstacles to the young lovers getting together. The braggart is a threat.
The braggart is there to break up the romance either directly by taking the ingenue from the juvenile or indirectly by disrupting the order of the society. But the braggart's adversary isn't the young lovers. They don't have the mental or emotional resources. Nope. His adversary is the wily servant.
The wily servant started out as the kind of character Zero Mostel plays in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Over time, though, he evolved into a more heroic, although still comic character, sometimes called Harlequin, but better known as Scaramouche.
Scaramouche is handsome, dashing, wily, scheming, not as good as he ought to be sometimes, often foolish, but at bottom heroic. In latter days, he---or she---isn't a servant anymore but she, or he, puts theirself in service to the young lovers, taking on the role of big brother or sister or, depending on how young the young lovers are, father or mother. Scaramouche can have his own romantic adventure going on, which the braggart also threatens, but it usually turns out that it's more important to Scaramouche to stop the braggart from disrupting the society than from keeping him or her out of a lover's bed.
Scaramouche appears in Shakespeare as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew (which owes a lot of its characters and plot to commedia dell'arte) and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. But he's also there, in shadow form, in the tragedies, standing darkly behind Hamlet and Edgar in King Lear.
On TV he's shown up as Hawkeye Pierce---who had four miles gloriosos to thwart, Frank, Charles, Colonel Flagg, and the Army itself in the persons of various generals, colonels, and military bureaucrats and politicians---Sam Malone---who was sometimes his own miles glorioso, but who was at his best opposing the rich braggart, Robin Colcord. Cliff, by the way, bragged a lot, but he had no power and so couldn't be the braggart; he was, like Norm and Carla, a comic servant type---and Liz Lemon, Tina Fey's character on 30 Rock.
So this is all I was saying when I called Guest's core company "long in the tooth."
I don't want him to get rid of anybody. I just think he needs to add some younger players in order to open up the comedic and dramatic possibilities of his future movies.
Gervais, who appears in For Your Consideration as a miles glorioso, is a good start.
Another younger performer makes a very funny cameo appearance in For Your Consideration, although her best bit isn't in the film. It's an interview with her and her partner, Monk, in one of the DVD's bonus features.
Nina Conti. Her partner, Monk, is a monkey. Not a real one. A puppet. She's a venrtiloquist. I can't help it. I love ventriloquist acts.