Waiting for Guffman
|Waiting for Guffman|
|Directed by||Christopher Guest|
|Written by||Christopher Guest|
|Produced by||Karen Murphy|
|Edited by||Andy Blumenthal|
|Music by||Christopher Guest |
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics|
|Box office||$2.9 million (USA)|
Waiting for Guffman is an American mockumentary comedy film written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, and directed by Guest. The film's ensemble cast includes Guest, Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, and Parker Posey.
The film's title is a reference to Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot. As in the other mockumentary films created by Guest, the majority of the dialogue was improvised (based on Guest and Levy's story). Because the film is about the production of a stage musical, it contains several original musical numbers written by Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer.
In the fictional small town of Blaine, Missouri, a handful of residents prepare to put on a community theater production led by eccentric director Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest). The show, a musical chronicling the town's history titled Red, White and Blaine, is to be performed as part of the town's 150th-anniversary celebration.
Cast in the leads are Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara), a pair of married travel agents who are also regular amateur performers; Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), a perky Dairy Queen employee; Clifford Wooley (Lewis Arquette), a "long time Blaineian" and retired taxidermist who is Red, White and Blaine's narrator; Johnny Savage (Matt Keeslar), a handsome and oblivious mechanic, who Corky goes out of his way to get into the play; and Dr. Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy), a tragically square dentist determined to discover his inner entertainer. High school teacher Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban) is the show's increasingly frustrated musical director.
Corky has used connections from his "Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway" past to invite Mort Guffman, a Broadway producer, to critique Red, White and Blaine. Corky leads the cast to believe that a positive review from Guffman could mean their show might go all the way to Broadway.
The program itself is designed to musically retell the history of Blaine, whose founding father was a buffoon incapable of distinguishing the geography of middle Missouri from the Pacific coastline. The viewer also learns why the town obtusely refers to itself as "the stool capital of the United States." The music is a series of poorly performed songs such as "Nothing Ever Happens on Mars" a reference to the town's supposed visit by a UFO, and "Stool Boom". (The DVD contains "This Bulging River" and "Nothing Ever Happens in Blaine", which were edited from the cinema release.)
Central to the film are Corky's stereotypically gay mannerisms. He supposedly has a wife called Bonnie, whom no one in Blaine has ever met or seen. He uses her to explain his habit of shopping for women's clothing and shoes.
When Johnny is forced by his suspicious father (Brian Doyle Murray) to quit the show, Corky takes over his roles, which were clearly intended for a young, masculine actor, playing a lusty young frontiersman, a heartbroken soldier, and a little boy wearing a beanie and shorts. Corky never sheds his dainty demeanor, bowl haircut, lisp, or earring in spite of his historical roles, and his face is pasted with an overkill of stage rouge and eyeliner.
Corky is also faced with creating his magic on a shoestring budget, at one point quitting the show after storming out of a meeting with the City Council, which turns down his request for $100,000 to finance the production. But the distraught cast and persuasive city fathers convince Corky to return. At the show's performance, Guffman's seat is seen to be empty, much to the dismay of the cast. Corky reassures them that Broadway producers always arrive a bit late for the show, and sure enough a man (Paul Benedict) soon takes Guffman's reserved seat. The show is well received by the audience, whereupon Corky invites the assumed Guffman backstage to talk to the actors.
The man is actually Roy Loomis, who has come to Blaine to witness the birth of his niece's baby, but he does enjoy the show. Corky then reads a telegram stating that Guffman's plane was grounded by snowstorms in New York City, meaning that, like the "Godot" being spoofed, the real Guffman himself is destined never to arrive.
An epilogue shows the fates of the cast: Libby Mae is now living and working at the Dairy Queen in Sipes, Alabama, where she moved after her father was paroled. Allan and the Albertsons have pursued their dreams of being entertainers, Ron and Sheila traveling to Los Angeles, California, to work as extras, and Allan now performing for elderly Jews in Miami, Florida, retirement communities. Corky has returned to New York City, where he has opened a Hollywood-themed novelty shop, which includes such items as Brat Pack bobblehead dolls, My Dinner with Andre action figures, and The Remains of the Day lunch boxes.
- Christopher Guest as Corky St. Clair
- Eugene Levy as Dr. Allan Pearl
- Fred Willard as Ron Albertson
- Catherine O'Hara as Sheila Albertson
- Parker Posey as Libby Mae Brown
- Lewis Arquette as Clifford Wooley
- Bob Balaban as Lloyd Miller
- Matt Keeslar as Johnny Savage
- Michael Hitchcock as Steve Stark
- Larry Miller as Mayor Glenn Welsch
- David Cross as UFO Expert
- Linda Kash as Mrs. Pearl
- Brian Doyle-Murray as Red Savage
- Paul Benedict as Roy Loomis
- Paul Dooley as UFO Abductee
It was shot in Lockhart, Texas, a town located 30 miles south of Austin. Christopher Guest wanted to put a "Stool capital of the world" sign up over the town, but he wasn't granted permission to do so. Additional shooting took place in Los Angeles, including the scenes set in Corky St. Clair's apartment.
As in the other mockumentary films created by Guest, the majority of the dialogue is improvised. Matt Keeslar was the only cast member with no history of doing improvisational acting. Guest compares the process to jazz music: "You know the basic melody and the key changes but it's how you get from one change to the next that matters, and you don't know in advance how you're going to do it. I'm completely blank before the camera rolls. I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to say." Guest shoots ten minute long scenes and allows improvisations to unfold organically. He ends up with almost sixty hours of film, and takes over a year to edit it down to approximately ninety minutes. A two hour workprint version of Waiting for Guffman has circulated among fans, which includes some of the original footage that was edited out.
Release and reception
After being shown at the Toronto and Boston film festivals in late 1996, it received a US theatrical release, playing in approximately 50 theaters beginning on January 31, 1997. The only other country it received a theatrical release in was Australia, during September 1997. It had earlier been shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 4, 1997.
Waiting for Guffman received a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 7.80/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "This riotously deadpan mockumentary about aspiring community theater performers never stoops to ridicule oft-ridiculous characters." The film also received a score of 71 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 19 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a grade A and called it "A madcap gem." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it "Priceless". It got two thumbs up on the February 1, 1997 episode of Siskel and Ebert. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars and wrote: "Attention is paid not simply to funny characters and punch lines, but to small nudges at human nature." Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide called the film "Frequently funny -- sometimes very funny indeed."
During opening weekend, the film made $37,990. The film earned $2.9 million at the US domestic box office, against a production budget of $4 million.
In January 1998, SFGate listed it as one of the best films of the previous year, according to ratings by 40 major critics, including those of The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times.
A month after the film came out, a now defunct fan-run website titled "www.waitingforguffman.com" was set-up. In 2000, Entertainment Weekly wrote "laden with gems — such as the original outline for the improv masterpiece, written descriptions of cut scenes, and behind-the-scenes photos from the lens of Guffman-ite Fred Willard — this site will wow the legions of fans obsessed with Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy’s 1997 mockumentary about a small-town theater production."
American Film Institute recognition:
- "Waiting for Guffman (1997) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
- Guest, Christopher, Levy, Eugene. Waiting for Guffman commentary, 2001.
- Richard Grant (January 10, 2004). "Nowt so queer as folk". The Guardian Weekend. Archived from the original on December 19, 2016. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
- "Christopher Guest". Charlierose.com. Retrieved 2021-02-02.
- The Age, September 26, 1997, p. 55
- "Waiting for Guffman". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
- "Waiting for Guffman". Metacritic. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
- Travers, Peter (31 January 1997). "Waiting for Guffman". Rolling Stone.
- Ebert, Roger; Siskel, Gene (1 February 1997). Shadow Conspiracy/Waiting for Guffman/Star Wars: Special Edition/Gridlock'd/Prisoner of the Mountains/Walkabout. Buena Vista Television.
- Ebert, Roger. "Waiting For Guffman movie review (1997)". Chicago Sun-Times.
- "Waiting For Guffman". TVGuide.com.
- "A CRITICAL CONSENSUS - THE BEST FILMS OF 1997". Sfgate.com. 1998-01-04. Retrieved 2021-09-08.
- Landau, Jennifer (2014). Jane Lynch: Actress and Activist. Rosen Publishing.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-30.
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