Review: Mascots (TIFF 2016)
PLOT: Professional mascots from all over the world descend on Anaheim in order to compete for the Gold Fluffy Award.
REVIEW: MASCOTS marks director Christopher Guest’s return to movies after a ten year break, during which he brought the underrated ‘Family Tree” to HBO. His first full-on “mockumentary” (a word Guest infamously hates) since A MIGHTY WIND, this returns him to familiar territory, in that it once again allows him to act as a kind of champion of the underdog, something which has arguably defined his work. Sure, he pokes fun his not-so-bright characters, but the mocking is - for the most part - affectionate.
Keeping that in mind, Netflix viewers who find this in their queue once it shows up at the end of the month should expect a relatively gentle comedy. Those who know what to expect from a Guest movie will feel right at home, with it reuniting much of his stock cast (with several notable exceptions - including Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara). While the “Netflix Original Movie” label has been inconsistent at best, MASCOTS is one of their stronger efforts, and a better vehicle for Guest than FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION, even if it does fall short of BEST IN SHOW or WAITING FOR GUFFMAN.
The premise is a fun one and a natural fit for Guest’s particular take. The characters are a lovable bunch, with his MVP’s like Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge predictably hilarious and clearly having a blast being back in a zone they’re effortlessly comfortable in. However, most of the veterans are peripheral, appearing as judges and sponsors while the mascots themselves are mostly played by the younger cast members. Guest favorite Parker Posey anchors the movie as the mascot of a small university where she’s by far the oldest student. With her trashy sister in-tow (a hilarious Susan Yeagley) and an uproariously pretentious routine prepared (with the help of none other than Guest’s own Corky St. Clair from GUFFMAN in a cameo) she hopes to be crowned the champion mascot - but oh there’s competition.
Two of the standouts wind-up being from “Family Tree”, with Chris O’Dowd as the “bad-boy” , a minor-league hockey mascot named “The Fist”, whose passions including fighting, seducing much older women and who has a special connection to reruns of “Highway to Heaven”. O’Dowd seems made for Guest’s world, as does his “Family Tree” co-star, Tom Bennett (who recently stole-scenes in Whit Stillman’s LOVE & FRIENDSHIP). As the memorably-named Owen Golly Jr, he plays the latest in a long line of mascots, chaffing under his oppressive dad, played by another Guest MVP, Jim Piddock.
As with his other movies, MASCOTS is a pretty breezy, effortless watch, clocking-in at only eighty-nine minutes, making it an easy choice for a Netflix watch. Even still, MASCOTS is occasionally inconsistent, with more jokes than usual falling flat and some characters gelling more than others. It’s also surprising how harsh the couple played by Sarah Baker (“Louie”) and Zach Woods come-off, with both being among the only truly mean-spirited characters I can remember from his work. Both are so convincing with their passive-aggressive prodding that it’s almost unnerving.
Even if it’s not BEST IN SHOW or A MIGHTY WIND, MASCOTS is still a good, fun watch and well-worth checking-out for Guest devotees, although it may not cross-over to non-fans. Still, Guest’s low-key, economical comedies are a natural fit for streaming on Netflix, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s found a permanent home for his future projects.