Hicks with dreams: the farm today, Broadway tomorrow
Waiting for Guffman
Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy.
Directed by Christopher Guest.
Starring Lewis Arquette, Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, Matt Keeslar,
Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, and Fred WillardBy Teresa Esser
Waiting for Guffman is a hilarious comedy about the small southern town of Blaine, Mo. as it prepares for its sesquicentennial. The people of Blaine become obsessed with the creation of a musical in order to promote spirit and enthusiasm in their town, "The Stool Capitol of the World."
The film's humor revolves around the degree of seriousness with which the townspeople regard themselves. "It's not always easy to be a Blaine Fayve," says one of the members of the town council, and the direct descendant of the town's wilderness guide/namesake. "I can understand how the Kennedys must feel."
The mock documentary feeling of Waiting for Guffman is very similar to the technique employed in This Is Spinal Tap, in which Christopher Guest (Corky St. Clair) was the lead guitarist. The documentary tone is established through the use of numerous interviews with Blaine townspeople, including one yokel who claims he was abducted and "probed" by a UFO full of Martian spacemen. To this day, the man claims, his rear end goes numb every Sunday morning at the precise time that the spaceship picked him up.
Waiting for Guffman is filled with thinly veiled references to homosexuality, from the alien anal encounter to Corky's affected voice and earring to a town council member's comparison of Corky's diverse talents to those of Barbra Streissand. A recurrent but unstated theme is the repression of homosexuality and transgender behavior among males in small-town Missouri, which is contrasted against the low-class heterosexuality practiced openly by the town's hick residents. "Grab your girlfriend by the arm," goes one line from a song in the musical, "and take her out behind the barn."
It is funny to listen to townsfolk describe incidents of running into Corky in the pantyhose section of a women's clothing store, where he is ostensibly shopping for his absent wife. None of the townspeople bother to question the fact that they have never seen the woman to whom Corky claims to be married.
The actual plot of Waiting for Guffman involves the actors' attempts to pool their talents into the creation of a decent musical and Corky's desire to receive enough attention from a New York talent scout to give his group a chance to work on Broadway. Unfortunately, this "conflict" is not developed at all. Regardless of what the title implies, it does not seem to matter to the characters whether or not Mr. Guffman will visit the town in time to see the one performance of their musical.
Waiting for Guffman is a truly funny film, and an excellent way to spend two hours on a weekend afternoon. Parker Posey (Libby Mae Brown) delivers a stellar performance as a distracted Dairy Queen employee/actress, but Christopher Guest carries the film with his earnest and amusing affectations. Another noteworthy performance was turned in by Catherine O'Hara (Sheila Albertson), with her portrayal of an insecure travel agent who is repeatedly forced to take a back seat while her husband Ron (Fred Willard) engages in shameless self-promotion.