Television and movie universes seem to be just about everywhere these days. To the illustrious list of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, DC’s Extended Universe, Fox’s sort-of-X-Men Cinematic Universe, and Universal’s Dark Universe (the latter which absolutely no one asked for), we can now add the Christopher Guestverse. Or the Corky St. Clairverse, as it were, since Guest’s newest film, the Netflix original Mascots, brings back this amusing character of Guest’s from 1996’s Waiting For Guffman, creating something of a stab at continuity. But more on that later.
Mascots is perhaps a strange idea for one of Guest’s now-classic mockumentaries, if only because it feels like a weird middle ground between Waiting For Guffman and 2000’s Best in Show. Waiting For Guffman worked because it was dedicated to being absolutely specific and recognizable when it came to its loving-but-mocking approach to small-town community theater, going small in scope to accurately get into this insular subculture. Conversely, Best in Show worked because it provided a delightful fictionalized context to, and “revealed” behind-the-scenes intrigue of, a Westminster-esque dog competition, which is a widely watched television event. But Mascots seems to be picking an odd target in this regard, because mascot competitions aren’t exactly ever made into television specials with captive audiences, while the jokes in the film itself don’t have the same ring of truth that similar tropes in Waiting For Guffman did. It’s easy to imagine someone watching Westminster and wondering what exactly goes on in the minds of the dog owners who participate in these kinds of shows, but there isn’t really the same widespread gathering of sports mascots to drive this same sort of inquiry—wondering what a mascot is thinking is pretty much a one-on-one affair between the mascot and the spectator.
The setup of Mascots is basically Best in Show transposed to center on the mascot competition, where we jump back and forth from among various hopeful mascotters, the judges, and the representatives of the “Gluten-Free Channel” in the lead-up to the main event, the “Fluffies.” Mascots happily features a good number of Christopher Guest’s usual suspects: Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch and Fred Willard, to name but a few. New faces include Zach Woods (In the Loop), whose poker face and self-conscious physicality make him ideally suited for the Guest style, as well as Tom Bennett, who was the best part of 2016’s hilarious Love and Friendship. Sadly Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara aren’t present, although the rest of the cast is more than game to get into classic Guest-ian shenanigans, even if some of the archetypes feel like retreads.
From his first scene I pegged Tom Bennett’s character as the eventual winner (sorry for the spoiler), as he embodies the role that Eugene Levy played in Best in Show: the kindhearted naive guy from whom no one really expected much. Fred Willard, always a delight in these movies, essentially hits the same rhythms as his Best in Show character in this role as a blithely ignorant mascot coach, while Chris O’Dowd, who previously worked with Guest in his HBO show Best in Show, is the so-called “bad boy of mascottery.” Zach Woods and Sarah Baker fill the roles that Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey filled in Best in Show—the quickly designated asshole couple that no one wants to win.
On a larger note, I’m not quite sure why Guest felt the need to resurrect his Corky St. Clair character for Mascots as a last-minute mentor for Posey’s character. After all, none of his other troupe of actors who show up in Mascots plays a repeat role, which, for the overly critical viewer, creates continuity issues in the Guestverse. But I digress. The issue with Guest’s trotting out of Corky St. Clair is that it almost reads as an insecure gesture to get Guest-heads (a name for Guest fans I literally just came up with) to accept this new movie on this new platform (for him). After all, it’s been about ten years between For Your Consideration (2006) his second-most recent directorial effort, and Mascots. In any case, having Corky come back doesn’t really add anything to Mascots, and, indeed, robs us of what could have been an entirely delightful new Guest role.
On another note, I do wish Guest could find a better use for Jennifer Coolidge than as the incongruously sexy wife to an unremarkable elderly man. She is an incredibly talented comedian, as seen in Legally Blonde, but in Mascots as well as Best in Show, she plays basically the same role—another unnecessarily familiar element of Mascots that echoes Guest’s older, better movies.
The jokes land for the most part, but nothing in Mascots provokes the same actual humor of Guest’s other works. A small bit about mistaking Furries for mascots without knowing what Furries are is amusing, while the so-called “Gluten-Free Channel” is a single-note joke that shouldn’t have been referenced more than once. A short sequence about being offended by the idea of a Native American as a former high school mascot feels, in light of the Washington football team’s ongoing mascot controversy, a little dismissive, though Guest and the actors manage to turn the joke back onto the well-meaning judges forced to deliberate on the issue in the end. The narrative culminates, of course, in the competition itself, which is intermittently entertaining and runs far too long—though, if the actors actually did their own stunts, that’d really be quite something. Ultimately, Mascots rates near the bottom of Guest’s mockumentaries—here’s hoping his next effort (in or out of the Guestverse) takes more risks.
Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Starring: Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest
Release Date: A Netflix Original film
Deborah Krieger is an arts writer and aspiring curator. She studied art history, film, and German at Swarthmore College, and has written for PopMatters, Bust, The Mary Sue and Bitch Flicks. She blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram.