Review: 'Mascots' a slight but enjoyable return for Christopher Guest
It’s not the best film they’ve made so far, but Christopher Guest’s Mascots may be the best case for Netflix getting into the movie business.
The film, which is available on the streaming service Thursday, is a largely improvised mockumentary in the style of Guest’s previous films Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. (He was also heavily involved in the classic This is Spinal Tap, which Rob Reiner directed.)
Yet a modest cult favorite like those films is hard to get made in a movie business that increasingly seems to go either gigantic or tiny. It’s been a decade since Guest directed his last movie For Your Consideration, working in television in the meantime with HBO’s Family Tree.
Enter Netflix, which bridges the divide between those two mediums. And even if it ultimately is only a mild success — milder than its predecessors — it’s comforting to be back in this world and to see a home for movies of this size.
The plot centers around the titular costumed characters, who are traveling to the World Association Mascot Championships with the dream of winning a prestigious Fluffy award. The hopefuls include an art-dance armadillo (Parker Posey), hard-living Canadian hockey fist (Chris O’Dowd) and a chipper British hedgehog (Tom Bennett.)
The movie follows these characters as they make their way to the competition, then as they bounce off one another in the moments before the big showdown. Then the final third features the mascots performing their routines at the convention, like the climax of Magic Mike XXL, but with the characters putting on more clothes rather than less.
Most of Guest’s regulars make appearances — Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. as judges, Bob Balaban and Jennifer Coolidge as a spectator couple, Fred Willard as a mascot coach. Guest himself even makes a cameo as Corky St. Clair, the theater director from Waiting for Guffman.
Guest mainstays Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy regrettably don’t show up, likely busy with their television show Schitt’s Creek. Yet there’s some smart choices for new additions, including Silicon Valley and The Office actor Zach Woods and Bennett, who plays a sweet but daft man similar to his brilliant turn in Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship.
Like Guest’s previous films besides This is Spinal Tap, wry chuckles are more the order than belly-laughs. That’s even truer here, which is consistently amusing without ever being hysterical and sometimes not even that (an ongoing joke about the Gluten Free Channel falls flat.)
But part of what makes the director’s films stand out from other comedies is the choice to take their characters seriously. Take A Mighty Wind, where by the end of the film viewers have become genuinely invested in the will-they-or-won’t-they romance of Levy and O’Hara’s folk singer duo.
And Mascots follows suit here as well. Posey’s character finds her final shot at mascot fame in peril when she falls ill and Bennett’s character has to step out of the shadow of his father who had previously donned the hedgehog costume, with both situations played straight.
The movie is at its best once the actual competition begins. The dramatic arcs reach their peaks and the funny, surprisingly well-choreographed mascot routines prove to be the film’s comedic highlights.
Mascots may only prove to be a slight success. But fans of Guest’s previous work will be happy to see him back and all of us should be happy to see a place for this sort of mid-level movie.
Director: Christopher Guest
Cast: Parker Posey, Chris O'Dowd, Tom Bennett, Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr.
Screenplay: Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock
Running time: 89 min.