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For, Friday, March 16, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: The comedy ‘Waiting for Guffman’ was the first of Christopher Guest’s string of faux documentaries, which include ‘Best in Show,’ ‘A Mighty Wind,’ ‘For Your Consideration’ and ‘Mascots’ (the latter being a 2016 Netflix film in which Guest briefly reprises his ‘Guffman’ character). Warner Archive has given ‘Waiting for Guffman’ a Blu-ray upgrade, so here’s my Deseret News review, published on March 14, 1997.

Blaine, Mo., is celebrating the sesquicentennial of its founding. Yes folks, it's hard to believe, but 150 years have passed since a wagon train stopped where Blaine now stands, after weary settlers were informed they had reached California. "Smell that salt water!" Col. Blaine exclaimed.

But Blaine also has a couple of other claims to fame. The town is the home of famous handcrafted footstools, and proudly wears the moniker, "Stool Capitol of the World." And then there was the notorious alien abduction of some local residents back in 1946.

All of these events and more will be included in the centerpiece of Blaine's celebration, a community theater production titled "Red, White and Blaine," written and directed by Corky St. Clair, a local boy with New York theater experience. (His previous Blaine production was a stage version of "Backdraft" — which burned down the theater.)

That's the setup for "Waiting for Guffman," as we follow a hilarious series of backstage events built around Corky's efforts to cast the play and then get it up and running. Of course, he'll have to deal with the usual rivalries, jealousies and bickering that accompany such efforts.


Fred Willard, left, Catherine O'Hara, Christopher Guest, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, 'Waiting for Guffman'

Structured as a mock documentary, "Waiting for Guffman" is bound to ring true to anyone who has ever participated in any kind of local theater production. And it may especially resonate with a number of Utahns right now, as there are many neighborhood and community events currently in development to celebrate our own sesquicentennial. (Although we really can smell salt water!)

Co-written, directed by and starring Christopher Guest as Corky, "Waiting for Guffman" is in a vein similar to "This is Spinal Tap" — a hysterical 1984 mock documentary about a fictional rock band, with Guest as a major participant.

For "Guffman" he has gathered a wonderful cast and allowed them to improvise, which results in occasionally uneven but frequently very funny scenes. (There is also a brief moment in the audition sequence with harsh profanity, and another scene has some sexually explicit dialogue, both of which account for the R rating.)


Christopher Guest with a 'Remains of the Day' lunchbox in 'Waiting for Guffman.'

Eugene Levy (who also co-wrote the screenplay) plays an obnoxious dentist, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard are married travel agents who have never left Blaine, Parker Posey (who won an acting award at the Sundance Film Festival in January) is a Dairy Queen employee, and this foursome, along with Corky (replacing a last-minute dropout) will wind up with the musical play's lead roles. Guest, meanwhile, plays Corky as a prissy "New York type," who says he has a wife named Bonnie, though no one in Blaine has ever seen her.

The film's title, "Waiting for Guffman" (meant to echo "Waiting for Godot"), refers to a New York producer whom Corky has invited to see the play, a futile gesture that he hopes will get him back to Manhattan.

The film revels in a condescending form of humor, based on the simple idea that none of these small-town folk have any talent, but they think they do — and so does the small-town audience.

But it's never mean-spirited, and Guest has fashioned the film with a great deal of affection. The charm goes a long way toward making the material amusing instead of insulting.