It has been 10 years since Christopher Guest dropped a mockumenatary film, which is hard to believe since the form has defined his career. For comedy fans, Waiting for Guffman (1997), Best in Show (2000), and A Mighty Wind (2003) sometimes feel like they came out just yesterday. Lines like “Hey, wha happened?,” “We could talk and not talk for hours,” and “How high a ridge I could not tell!” reverberate in our minds for eternity.
Guest’s movies cater to a particular sensibility, and as such, the reviews are usually mixed. His films live in the moments between plot points, the product of hours of improvising, searching for the funniest joke possible. He failed to connect with 2006’s For Your Consideration (2006), his parody of show business, and his 2013 HBO series Family Tree, which was a more earnest work than we’re used to from the improv master. With his new Netflix movie, Mascots, Guest returns to the formula he perfected with Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind: an hilarious chronicle of a ridiculous pursuit that people take way too seriously.
Mascots feels like a mix of Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman. The movie shares Best in Show’s focus on the frantic absurdity of competition, in this case between sports mascots competing for the World Mascot Association’s championship Gold Fluffy Award, and Guffman’s exploration of just how self-serious performance can be. As in his other great films, Guest taps his usual company of actors, and as usual, improv geniuses like Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard shine under Guest’s direction. You don’t have time to mourn the absence of Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy (presumably too busy with the hilarious Canadian series Schitt’s Creek to work on Mascots), as the additions of Chris O’Dowd, Tom Bennett (both worked with Guest on Family Tree), Zach Woods, and Sarah Baker fill out a stellar cast bursting with comic energy.
If there is a knock on Mascots, it is that there is almost too much going on. Guest launches about a half dozen stories, a number of hilarious mascot performances, and a slew of running gags, and does his best to cram them into the 90-minute runtime. Parker Posey (playing Cindi Babineaux), Christopher Moynihan (Phil Mayhew), Zach Woods (Mike Murray), and Tom Bennett (Owen Golly Jr.) all take turns acting as protagonist, then sometimes disappearing for scenes at a time. As a result, the film never quite reaches the emotional depths of A Mighty Wind. Nonetheless, the arcs of Posey and Bennett’s characters are as satisfying as you’ll see in movies a quarter as funny.
Mascots feels like something of a swan song for Guest. If it takes another 10 years to make a mockumentary feature, you wonder if some of his cast mainstays will still be working by the time funding comes together. Guest nods to the fact that this might his last ride with his longtime collaborators by reintroducing some characters from his previous works. At moments, it’s just as emotional to see the gang back together as it is to follow the plot of the film.
If this is the last mockumentary feature that Guest gets to do in this vein, then Mascots is a fitting capstone to one of the most brilliant projects in American comedy. It’s hard to say if Mascots will hold up as well as Guffman, Best in Show, or A Mighty Wind, but you leave this film with the sense that it belongs in that conversation. You can feel that you’ll soon be quoting this film alongside his other masterpieces.
If you’re a longtime Christopher Guest fan, Mascots delivers exactly what you’ve been waiting for.