Tag Archives: Mockumentary

“Theater Camp” Mockumentary is a Pleasant Lark with Low Stakes

Packing for Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s vision of Theater Camp (B) may involve contraband supplies such as throat coat (for maintaining those satin vocals) or the occasional tear stick (because crying on cue takes real range), but mostly the characters in this mockumentary come equipped for the summer with dry wit. Fresh from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this comic lark written by the co-directors along with actors Ben Platt and Noah Galvin, showcases faculty and budding performers at the fictional New York State ”AdirondACTS” sleep-away camp. After the program’s indomitable founder (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma, her clueless “crypto bro” son (Jimmy Tatro) is tasked with keeping the thespian enclave solvent while long-suffering teachers played by Platt and Gordon (both believable in their bickering) endeavor to ensure the end-of-summer musical show must go on. There are some fantastic quips and acts of acerbic comedy, largely featuring Tatro’s character’s basic misunderstanding of the theatre kids. Galvin shines when explaining the rituals of the bohemian Rent kids versus the finger-snapping Fosse friends. Ayo Edebiri is also a supporting VIP as a counselor who lied on her resume but still has to muster up classes on mask theory and fight choreography. There are plenty of sassy sight gags, biting observations and creative asides to reward those who work in the performing arts milieu; tricking kids into being restaurant servers by convincing them it’s an exercise in immersive theater is one of the standout sequences. Other times the tone is too slight to have much bite. The saggy middle act rallies in the finale though, when a show-within-a-show comes brilliantly together. The movie’s creators are clearly caught up in the craft, and it’s all just campy enough to yield a few bonfires of hilarity.

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is a Little Charmer

Now in limited theatrical release from A24.

Director Dean Fleischer-Camp’s novel stop-motion meets live-action dramedy Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (B) is an often entertaining sass menagerie, the A24 Films indie improv build on the likes of Aardman Studios’ Wallace and Gromit clay-making charm with a mix of Pixar-style pathos to punctuate the proceedings. This mockumentary style slip of a story is based on a series of online webisodes and stars the voice of Jenny Slate as the titular anthropomorphic animated character. Marcel lives with his grandmother (dialogue by Isabella Rossellini) in a vacation rental home occupied by a human filmmaker, played by the actual director. Viewers are treated to the one-inch-tall protagonist’s misadventures, gallant gadgetry and droll quips inside the house as he prepares for a newsmagazine TV show to chronicle his quirky life and possibly reunite him with his conch kind. Enjoyment of this movie depends on how captivated you are by Marcel; and while this shell without a filter is indeed hella funny, an elongated series of his outtakes do not a full-fledged story make. The film gets high originality points for its pleasant change of perspective amidst flashier fare. If you listen closely, you may hear tremendous tidal tidings washing over you, but some of the time it’s just treading water.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” Has That Not-So-Fresh Feeling

Now streaming on Prime Video

The goodwill generated by one of the most manic fish out of water comedies in recent times is greatly diminished in this dead fish of a follow-up. There are few happy returns as Jason Woliner’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (D+) sends its intrepid foreign reporter played by Sacha Baron Cohen back to America on a redemption tour to counter the embarrassment his titular character inflicted on his homeland in the original film. The notoriously sexist and anti-Semitic but strangely likable hero is on a mission to broker a relationship with the United States presidential administration by offering his own daughter, played by Maria Bakalova, as a gift to VP Mike Pence. Aside from some pretty ambitious stunts propelling this mockumentary crew very close to high seats of power, the film is gloomily shot and meandering in theme and tone. Sequences that worked so well to make potent points in the first film are squandered this time around: a case in point is a charm school sequence used for a cheap gag instead of a funny or piercing insight. The film stumbles onto two interesting notions: Its filming during the pandemic takes it on an interesting if not fully exploited detour, and the casting of the lively and likable Bakalova as daughter and sidekick allows for a vaguely feminist arch for her suppressed character. Overall though, this glum follow-up in which its main character seems to be going through the motions, often in lame disguises, neither nails its topics nor nails its targets. It’s merely subsequent when it could have been vital as parody — or even just competent.

“Mascots” a Far Cry from Guest’s Best

imageUsually the mere thought of a new entry into the mockumentary series pioneered by writer/director Christopher Guest brings a sly smile to the face. Alas the funny auteur’s Mascots (D+), a direct-to-Netflix take on furries who get fans in a frenzy, doesn’t get animated nearly enough. Perhaps after exploring theatre, dog shows, movie awards and folk music, the format is getting stale. The overall ensemble lacks energy, and the story has a paucity of punch. The lack of central protagonists or and major plot momentum lead to a ho-hum competition devoid of drama. Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. get some of the best moments; but like all the others, their character arches aren’t sustained. Favorites Parker Posey and Jennifer Coolidge are wasted. Guest even uncorks his own cherished on-screen character from Waiting for Guffman and doesn’t give him anything to do. Most of the actors are simply lucky their faces are covered for much of the film’s duration.


“Waiting for Guffman” a Hometown Hoot

Christopher Guest directs and stars in Waiting for Guffman (B+), an uproarious mockumentary about the denizens of a small town (Blaine, Missouri: the “stool capital of the world”) putting on a production to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Eugene Levy, Parker Posey and Catherine O’Hara are among the hilarious ensemble with each playing a singularly incompetent actor. It’s a must-see for fans of dry, small-town humor.

“Bob Roberts” a Solid Political Satire

Murphy Brown only scratched the surface. The cultural elite of the Hollywood left-wing has achieved its most fulfilling revenge through actor Tim Robbins’ auspicious directorial debut, Bob Roberts (B+), a scathing parody of ultra-conservatism. This is a gloriously partisan film of deep-rooted anger at the likes of Rush Limbaugh using a quasi-documentary format to chronicle a fictional Pennsylvania senatorial campaign’s meteoric ascension co-opting folk music and other traditionally progressive techniques for GOP ascension. Robbins is excellent in the showy (and musical) title role with strong support from Gore Vidal as the liberal candidate he is determined to unseat. This is much better work than the thematically similar Warren Beatty film Bulworth.