Christopher Guest has long been acknowledged as the master of the improv-inspired mockumentary — first as a cast member/writer of This Is Spinal Tap (which practically invented the genre), then as director in several short for Saturday Night Live and later in the classic features Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, in which he delved into, respectively, small-town aspirations for fame, dog shows, folk music and Oscar campaigning. At the heart of all of them is the how foolishly grand people can be about the silliest dreams. They are hilarious but occasionally heartbreaking explorations of the fragility of ego.
Guest has returned again, this time with the Netflix exclusive film Mascots which, as its title suggests, is about the world of competitive mascotting: People who dress up in oversized heads and as creatures and even inanimate objects in order to excite and delight crowds in a pantomine of exaggerated enthusiasm.
I doubt mascotting contests like these exist, or exist in this way, but I don’t put it past Guest to have culled his ideas from real life. Certainly we have seen similar kinds of competitions (baby beauty shows like Toddlers and Tiaras or Little Miss Sunshine, and even at ComicCon events). But Guest is too savvy to go for the overly familiar; he can have so much more fun poking the bear when that bear is actually a furry.
Once again, Guest has assembled his stock of master actors, among them Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Parker Posey. But best of all? Guest himself returns as Corky St. Clair, the closeted high school theater director craving his big shot in Guffman. It’s too bad that, in the comparative intimacy of your living room, you don’t get the chance to experience his return with the kind of amazement a theater audience would convey, but who cares!? Anyone who would complain about that are … bastard people!
The climax, of course, is the face-offs between the varying mascots, which calls to mind Justin Timberlake’s brilliant variation as a hip-hop dancing mascot on some SNL skits. You root for some, you pity others, but like the best of experiences, it’s the journey, not the destination, that really resonates.
Mascots, now streaming on Netflix.