Urban Cinefile
"One of the golden things about being the director was that I didn't have to worry about how hard it was to do some of the things. "  -Brad Bird, writer/director, The Incredibles on his naïve wishes in preproduction
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is basically a no-talent milksop with a bad haircut, a would-be stage director and choreographer who considers himself burned out on the off-off-off-off-off Broadway scene that chewed him up and spat him out in New York City. Retreating to the hamlet of Blaine, Missouri, Corky has found refuge mounting such locally-acclaimed and absurd productions as a stage musical of the firefighting thriller, Backdraft . Now, Blaine's powers-that-be have handed him the opportunity of a lifetime: producing and directing a musical, a tribute to the town's 150th anniversary. Drawing upon a handful of Blaine residents to comprise his singing, dancing cast, Corky throws himself body and soul into a staged review of the town's historical highlights. (Among these is the founding of Blaine by California-bound, 19th century pioneers who believed they'd arrived at the West Coast because they could smell the ocean.) Corky has a quiet but potentially rivalrous musical director (Bob Balaban) to contend with, and his wide-eyed players are all heart and no skill. Open auditions result in a talented local cast including Dr Peark, the dentist (Eugene Levy), travel agents Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara), Dairy Queen counter girl Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), a local mechanic (Matt Keeslar) and a retired taxidermist (Lewis Arquette). The chance for Corky’s return to Broadway is the promise of Mr Guffman’s attendance at the performance, Mr Guffman being a scout for the Oppenheimer Organisation. Big dreams are born.

"The mockumentary approach is not original, but the way Guest does it is: the ‘putting on a show’ to find happiness is not original, but Guest’s version is. The idea of a small town cast with pretentions to theatrical grandeur is very un-original, but again, Guest’s verve and versatile imagination rescues the plot. All because the ideas are fresh. Just as we are thinking we’ve seen this all before, Guest introduces a new take on the old scenes, partly through the anarchic freedom he gives hiw own gay character as Corky, partly through the believable ordinariness of the townfolk - who make us squirm with the delight of recognition and incredulity. These are not caricatures imagined by a writer grabbing the obvious. These folk are hilarious because they are real. Or seem so. Their peculiarities are amusing because they are minimal, not overblown, like the travel agent who at first reluctantly, later with far more zest than is required, admits he has only ever left Blaine once, and then to go to a slightly bigger town for an op on his privates. (I’ll leave out the exact details for your greater titilation at the cinema.) In short (and at 84 minutes, it is), this is a very funny film with a daring difference: it lets us laugh at the characters without malice."
Andrew L. Urban

"The film was largely improvised, and is a gem, a genuine comic masterpiece that is audacious in an industry so full of repetition. Guest, who co-conceived and directed the film, gives a wonderful, over-the-top performance, and his final sequence on screen will leave you in stitches. Eugene Levy, a talent so rarely seen on screen, is brilliant as the dentist, while the delightful Parker Posey shows tremendous comic skill. But it's Guest's triumph from beginning to end, in this mock documentary crafted with intelligence, wit and its own unflappable style. Don't wait for Guffman to disappear. You'll laugh till you cry."
Paul Fischer

"Fresh, compelling and very funny, Christopher Guest’ film has a lot of heart. Guest brings together a talented cast which spontaneously delivers. It’s a fun encounter as we get involved in the lives of these very ordinary people, who are earnestly serious about their talent and contribution. The early documentary structure and approach endears us quickly to the players and we quickly think we have some empathy for the town of Blain and its residents. Each character plays it straight with childish and infectious enthusiasm and good humour. Look out for a very funny scene in the chinese restaurant, when the intimate discussion between the broadminded travel agents and the prudish jewish dentist and his wife gets totally out of hand. Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy are especially wonderful to watch. There are lots of funny lines; Waiting for Guffman is a light-hearted feel-good film that will put a smile on your face, and a skip in your stride. We never feel, however, that these characters are the object of our ridicule, but we laugh gently along with them, as genuine good natured human beings with soul."
Louise Keller

Email this article

Christopher Guest

Parker Posey

Eugene Levy



CAST: Deborah Theaker, Michael Hitchcock, Scott Williamson, Larry Miller, Don Lake, Christopher Guest, Fed Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, David Cross, Eugene Levy, Jim McQueen, Turk Pipkin, Jerry Turman, Bob Balaban, Paul Dooley, Linda Kash, Lewis Arquette, Matt Keeslar, Brian Doyle-Murray, Miriam Flynn, Jill Parker-Jones, Margaret Bowman, Paul Benedict

DIRECTOR: Christopher Guest

PRODUCER: Karen Murphy

SCRIPT: Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy


EDITOR: Andy Blumenthal

MUSIC & LYRICS: Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest


RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 18, 1997 (Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth); October 2 (Melbourne)

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020