Editor’s Note: Mascots opens in limited theatrical release today, October 13, 2016.
Christopher Guest’s newest faux documentary, Mascots, follows the path of several sports mascots on their way to compete in the World Mascot Association championships. An organization apparently reserved for mascots of small, regional schools, most of the contestants are the kind of goofy Middle Americans that Guest is fond of making fun of, as both fans and casual viewers will remember. They’ll also likely remember these familiar characters: the warring married couple (Sarah Baker and Zach Woods), the overstuffed and rich sponsor (Jennifer Coolidge), harried organizers (Michael Hitchcock and Don Lake), the brittle Midwestern girl (Parker Posey), too-serious judges (Ed Begley, Jr. and Jane Lynch), the goofy TV personality (John Michael Higgins) and, in a cameo, Corky St. Claire (Christopher Guest), star of Waiting for Guffman (1996).
There is no plot to speak of, which has always been a feature in Guest’s films, not a bug, but with so many sets of characters to juggle, the lack of plot in Mascots guarantees lack of character development.
With all the callbacks to past glories, Mascots hovers somewhere between pandering and downright laziness. There is no plot to speak of, which has always been a feature in Guest’s films, not a bug, but with so many sets of characters to juggle, the lack of plot in Mascots guarantees lack of character development. Everyone basically has one or two jokes, equally spaced as though the characters were organized on a tournament bracket chart, and very few of these small character groups interact with one another.
As a result, we don’t get much of the classic ad-libbing and riffing that made his previous films so funny. There are some exceptions, most notably Begley, Jr. and Lynch as former mascots with wildly different levels of fame, and of course Fred Willard can’t pass up the opportunity to try to confuse everyone both on set and on screen, and God bless him for that. Chris O’Dowd really delivers as the heavy-metal mascot known as The Fist; O’Dowd is a real crowd-pleaser, and his proclaimed dedication to “sports mascottery” is repeated in nearly every review of the film, because it’s the best line.
With all the callbacks to past glories, Mascots hovers somewhere between pandering and downright laziness.
With very little exception, everything just simmers along peacefully in Mascots until the final act, dedicated to the competition itself. As our hapless contestants perform, we see that they are neither terrible nor exceptional. They are as boring as the rest of the film, with the exception of one classic Guest head-scratcher: a routine featuring dancing poop, followed by a mascot that obliquely references a 13th Century Jewish scholar.
Like Guest’s prior faux documentaries, the conceit rests heavily on the assumption that the topic is, at best, mildly interesting, and that the participants are runners-up in life. This conceit hasn’t worn well over the years, in part because filmmaking has become much more inclusive and technological advances have made filmmaking more accessible for more people. The result has been a vast increase in small, independent documentaries that focus on obscure subjects. And a lot of those tiny little docs are pretty great.
An actual documentary on sports mascots could be pretty great, too, and I would wager it would contain at least 80% fewer dick jokes by volume, and probably fewer actors mincing around with the outdated notion that the mere concept of being gay is hilarious. There’s no shame in making a film specifically for your fans, and that’s what Mascots really is at heart, but it’s a film made for fans still living in 1996.
Despite the game efforts of solid newcomers and several long-time favorites from director Christopher Guest's previous films, Mascots is a mostly dull and derivative affair, lacking the barbed wit of Guest's earlier work.