With its understanding that humor comes from humanity, Waiting for Guffman is a gem of a comedy. At the center of it all is Corky St. Claire, a failed Broadway performer who has become the biggest fish in the very, very small pond that is Blaine, MO. In Corky, director Christopher Guest personifies the recurring motif of the film: self-delusion. While Guest invests the character with every conceivable gay stereotype, there are references to a Mrs. St. Claire. Guest is not playing this for cheap laughs; he is underscoring the thematic center of the film. Instead of facing up to what they really are, these characters lose themselves in the make-believe world of community theater. Waiting for Guffman is populated by characters unwilling or unable to face themselves. Allan Pearl (the town dentist), Ron and Sheila Albertson (Blaine's travel agents and theater stars), and Libby Mae Brown all lead lives of quiet desperation, revealed in sharply observed scenes and monologues that prove them each to be at best self-delusional and at worst utterly clueless about themselves. The central conceit of the film, that a Broadway producer would come to Missouri to see their show, is a metaphor for how far these characters are from living in their own worlds. There are big laughs in the film such as the montage of townsfolk auditioning for the show, a revealing dinner out with the Pearls and the Albertsons, and the tour of Corky's movie memorabilia (featuring My Dinner With Andre action figures). But at its heart, Waiting for Guffman is concerned with sad people. If the filmmakers didn't love these people so much, the movie would come off as cruel. Fortunately, they do, and the result is a bittersweet comic masterpiece.
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The city of Blaine, Missouri is celebrating its sesquicentennial, and what better reason could there be to put on a show? Corky St. Claire (Christopher Guest), current leader of Blaine's community theater group and creator of a stage musical version of Backdraft that led to the unfortunate destruction of the theater, has been commissioned to put together a musical about the city's noble history, "Red, White and Blaine," which stars a variety of the town's theatrical talent. Corky's cast includes Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara), a pair of married travel agents that Corky calls "the Lunts of Blaine;" Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy), a dentist who insists that he wasn't the class clown in high school but did sit next to him; Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), a sweet young thing who lives for her job at the Dairy Queen; and Clifford Wooley (Lewis Arquette), an "Old Blainian" who makes gun racks from deer hooves. Somehow, Corky has persuaded a major theatrical producer in New York to send a representative to look at the show -- is it possible that "Red, White and Blaine" could be headed to Broadway? Christopher Guest directed and co-wrote this very funny mock-documentary, in addition to playing the flamboyant Corky; Guests's partners from This Is Spinal Tap, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, helped write the memorable songs for "Red, White and Blaine."