Director: Christopher Guest
Cast: Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Parker Posey, Chris O’Dowd, John Michael Higgins
Watch Mascots online in the UK: Netflix UK
Actor-writer-director Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel) has spent the last 20 years churning out semi-improvised mockumentaries that gently satirise particular subcultures, whether it’s community theatre in Waiting For Guffman (still the best of the lot), competitive dog shows in Best in Show, or the folk music scene in A Mighty Wind. For his fifth, Guest has plumped for a competition of amateur sports mascots, but the resulting film feels rather tired, despite likeable comic performances from the entire cast.
The setting for the film is the 8th World Mascot Association Championship in Anaheim, California, an event known as “The Fluffies”. The competitors include: a bickering husband and wife team (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker); a Canada-based Irishman, whose costume is just a fist (Chris O’Dowd); a woman dressed as an armadillo (Parker Posey), who faces disqualification, because her sports team used to be called the Leaping Squaws; a man dressed as a plumber (Christopher Moynihan) and a British man (Tom Bennett), who’s inherited his hedgehog routine from his father (Jim Piddock) and faces stiff opposition when he tries to change things.
Additional characters, largely drawn from Guest’s usual repertory, include: a TV executive (John Michael Higgins), who may or may not decide to put the show on the Gluten Free Network (“available in at least two major cities”); a pair of rival celebrity judges (Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr); the owners of a football team (Jennifer Coolidge and Bob Balaban) and, of course, Fred Willard as the manager of one of the acts.
The structure of the film follows the same template as Guest’s previous movies, with the characters giving a series of to-camera interviews before the main event takes place. However, the film seems to lose interest in the documentary format at a certain point, with several scenes unfolding with no pretence of a film crew in attendance, the result of which is a little jarring.
Given the potential for out-and-out lunacy (the subculture of “furries” is briefly touched upon in a decent running gag), it seems odd that Guest is so restrained with his characters, most of whom are sweetly enthusiastic about the whole thing. In fact, their similarity in attitude ends up backfiring a little, because so much potential goes unexplored – there are no ego-maniacs and no underdogs to be found here.
Fortunately, the actors are a lot of fun to watch, particularly Tom Bennett, who’s rapidly becoming a rising comedy star, after his brilliant comic turns in Love & Friendship and David Brent: Life on the Road. Similarly, Jane Lynch is on great form (the title of her book gets one of the film’s biggest laughs) and there’s scene-stealing support from Susan Yeagley as Posey’s sister, while Guest contributes a welcome cameo as a much-loved character from one of his previous films. However, the likes of O’Dowd, Coolidge and Balaban are relatively under-used.
Mascots is a likeable enough comedy that gets by on the strength of its comic cast, but the tiredness of the format is beginning to show – you can’t help feeling it should have been a lot funnier.
Mascots is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.