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Film / Waiting for Guffman

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"I'll tell you why I can't put up with you people. Because you're bastard people."
Corky St. Clair

Waiting for Guffman is a 1997 Mockumentary co-written and directed by Christopher Guest, who stars along with Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, and others who would appear in several of the subsequent mockumentaries directed by Guest.

The residents of Blaine, Missouri — the self-proclaimed home of the first UFO landing in the United States (Blaine residents beg to differ with Roswell's claims) and stool capital of the world — are excited about the town's upcoming sesquicentennial celebration, which will have as its centerpiece the original musical production, "Red, White and Blaine." Corky St. Clair (Guest), the musical's writer/composer and former New York theater professional (off off off off Broadway) who currently leads the Blaine Community Players, will helm the production, assisted by high school music teacher Lloyd Miller (Balaban). Corky and Lloyd are excited about their 'talented' cast of locals and the production as a whole, though Corky and Lloyd are themselves as untalented and unaware as their cast. Corky and company are especially anticipating the presence of a representative of the prestigious New York based Oppenheimer Organization, Mort Guffman, in the audience on opening night. In Corky's mind, a favorable review from Guffman means that the production is heading to Broadway. Through all the ups and downs (and more downs) of the pre-production, everyone in Blaine still can't wait for opening night and the arrival of Guffman, upon whom the cast and crew's dreams rest.

The title of the film is a reference to the Samuel Beckett play, Waiting for Godot. As in the other mockumentaries created by Guest, the majority of the dialogue is improvised. Because the film is about the production of a stage musical, it contains several original musical numbers.

Waiting for Guffman contains examples of:

  • All for Nothing: All of the insanity and borderline humiliation that the cast does on stage for the sake of trying to entertain Mr. Mort Guffman and thus get hired for Broadway ends up being this with the reveal Guffman never ever arrived. To make things worse, the man they assumed was Guffman was some random guy who sat on the reserved chair.
  • All Gays Love Theater: Corky is quite flamboyant.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Corky is clearly nursing a crush on Johnny, who is oblivious, while Steve Stark is clearly head over heels in love with Corky, who is uninterested.
  • Anal Probing: A supposed visit by a UFO is a significant part of the history of Blaine, Missouri. One abductee shares his story, in which he details being probed for "three to four hours" by "five or six" aliens—not all at once but individually. Every Sunday around the time of his abduction, the abductee finds that he has "no feeling in his buttocks."
  • Artistic License – Music: In the overture, someone decided to dub in MIDI instruments, despite a live orchestra being the ones playing. Word of God stated that the musicians performed too well for the musical to be funny.
  • Audience Murmurs: The Albertsons try to emulate this, but since there are only two of them it comes across as them clearly saying "Hubbub hubbub hubbub..."
  • Bad "Bad Acting": All the actors in the musical, especially the Albertsons.
  • The Beard: Corky's alleged wife Bonnie, who we never get to see and who Corky barely brings up outside of when he needs to justify why he buys women's clothing.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Libby Mae ends up getting her wish and leaving Blaine after the show... only instead of New York City, she's stuck in Sipes, Alabama, working at the local Dairy Queen...
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Ron is apparently quite large down there, turns out that he went Jefferson City for a reduction surgery at his wife's insistence. Apparently Bigger Is Not Better in Bed. Unreliable Narrator in play, however.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Verging closely toward Downer Ending; Guffman never shows up and the cast fail to get any of the career breakthroughs from the show that they hoped for, but it ends up being a hit with everyone who sees it. During the epilogue, we see that Corky, Allan, and the Albertsons have all gone on to do something that they enjoy (albeit to little genuine success) and are all quite satisfied with where their lives have gone, but Libby Mae is now stuck in a town as equally Podunk as Blaine and is clearly more miserable than she was at the beginning of the film now that she has to live with her recently released jailbird father.
  • Brainless Beauty: Hunky mechanic Johnny Savage spends most of his screentime coming off as clueless, and is clearly only a part of the show because Corky has a thing for him. Libby Mae Brown also qualifies to a lesser extent, being just as deluded as the rest of the cast about her talent but significantly younger and prettier.
  • Camp Gay: Corky has all of the mannerisms. He claims to have a wife, but she is never seen, and he is clearly enamored with Johnny Savage. This ends up having humorous consequences when Corky is forced to fill in for all of Johnny's parts in "Red, White, and Blaine" at the last minute and his effeminate, lispy voice is completely at odds with the various masculine romantic leads that Johnny was supposed to play.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lloyd Miller and maybe Mrs. Pearl are the only ones who don't count as this, but Corky in particular is off in his own world that only rarely intersects with reality.
  • Comically Cross-Eyed: Allen goes cross-eyed when he removes his glasses. Naturally, Corky insists that he not wear his glasses while playing Blaine Fabin.
    Allan as Blaine: Gather round for I have news.
    Sheila: What news?
    Ron: What did your keen and perceptive eyes behold?
  • Cool Old Guy: Clifford Wooley, one of Blaine's oldest citizens and easily the best (or at least the least terrible) actor in the play.
  • Correspondence Course:
    Clifford Wooley: "I had a... hankerin' to be an actor when I was a young feller when I got out of the Coast Guard, but I... I went to taxidermy school instead... well, I took a correspondence course."
  • Double Entendre: Corky tells off the town council by saying he's going to go home and bite his pillow, which to most gay ears would mean that he's going to drown his sorrows by getting fucked.
  • Drama Queen: Corky, who throws a tantrum and threatens to quit the show after he's denied a budget of $100,000 (after being told that the town's entire annual budget is only $15,000).
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles: Parodied with the shot of a poster for the stage production Cornelius McGillicutty & His Truly Amazing Flying Machine.
  • The Ghost: The characters spend the entire movie preparing for the arrival of Broadway talent scout Guffman. During their performance, a distinguished man arrives late and takes Guffman's seat, but we later find out that he's just a random guy. Guffman never arrives.
  • Girlfriend in Canada: Possibly director Corky St. Clair's wife Bonnie though she supposedly lives in town with him, not in some distant locale. Nobody ever seems to have met Bonnie, and there are hints ("I buy most of her clothes") that "Bonnie" may be a cover story for crossdressing or some more peculiar activity.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: The tryouts for Red, White & Blaine bring out a lot of local weirdos doing strange shtick, like a guy who reenacts a Cluster F-Bomb scene as two characters from Raging Bull without bothering to imitate Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci, and a man who sings Lou Christie's falsetto pop classic "Lightning Strikes" in a flat voice. The ones who get chosen have audition pieces that are slightly more polished but just as absurd.
  • Hope Spot: After being late for so long, a distinguished-looking gentleman finally arrives in the theatre while the play is underway and sits in the chair reserved for Guffman. It looks like the man everyone's banking their careers on has arrived... only for him to reveal at the end that he is not Guffman.
  • It's All About Me: Ron Albertson, even at his own wife’s expense.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To Waiting for Godot.
  • Living MacGuffin: Invoked with the titular Guffman. His full name, Mort Guffman, sounds deliberately like "MacGuffin", and the character himself is nothing more than a plot device motivating the other characters and never actually appears in or acts upon the story.
  • Love Triangle: Corky clearly has a huge unrequited crush on Johnny Savage, while Councilman Steve Stark is gradually revealed to have a huge crush on Corky. note 
  • Meaningful Name: The name of the producer that everyone wants to impress is called Mort Guffman which the characters pronounce like "MacGuffin".
  • Mistaken for Special Guest: The "theatre critic" turns out to be just a man who is in town to visit his niece, who has just had a baby. In the closing credits, he is listed as "Not Guffman".
  • Mockumentary: Most of the film is presented as a series of interviews with all the characters giving their (very colorful) views on how the production is going.
  • No Ending: The number "Nothing Ever Happens On Mars".
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: played with in "Red, White and Blaine", in which an alien's musical number is "Nothing Ever Happens On Mars". This was meant to be a Call-Back to a song called "Nothing Ever Happens In Blaine" that got cut; note the audience's roar of laughter when it starts.
  • Only Sane Man: Band leader Lloyd Miller seems to be the only person in town who doesn't reside entirely in Cloudcuckooland, but his lack of assertiveness means that he doesn't get much traction when trying to deal with the others.
  • See You in Hell: In a Deleted Scene, this is the devastating climax of Libby Mae's audition monologue.
    "Susan" (after pulling the plug hooked up to her brother in his hospital bed): And who's on top and who's on bottom, now? Huh? WHO'S ON TOP AND WHO'S ON BOTTOM NOW? I'll see you in Hell, Billy, but at least I'm gonna have some fun before I get there!
  • Secondary Character Title: The title character doesn't even make an appearance.
  • Serious Business: Community theatre, particularly when it seems like the play will get noticed.
  • Small Name, Big Ego:
    • Corky, in spades. Despite being what most working New York theater actors would consider pathetic, Corky thinks of himself as a visionary artiste.
    • The Albertsons too. Despite easily being the worst actors in the cast, they carry themselves as though they're seasoned professionals and local celebrities. During the epilogue they continue to act like such even as they play background extras in Hollywood.
  • Small Town Boredom: Libby Mae is clearly stifled by her slow-moving life in Blaine and sees the show as her chance to break out and move to New York.
  • Special Effect Failure: invoked Done deliberately with the "Red, White, and Blaine" production during "Nothing Ever Happens on Mars". Not only is the Martian clearly visible walking into position onstage, unobscured by the scenery, before the UFO door drops for the intended first view of the character, but the UFO facade and costume weren't considered carefully, leading to the alien head being too wide to pass through the door head-on, leading to a comical head bonk.
  • Stylistic Suck: The musical itself. The script is hokey, the songs are corny, the props are cheap, and many of the characters feel miscast, with Corky in particular standing out when he ended up filling in for a younger, more masculine actor. Corky doesn't even attempt to affect a more masculine demeanor, with his usual persona utterly jarring with the roles he wound up playing.
  • Transparent Closet: Corky St. Clair, a walking Camp Gay stereotype who nonetheless feels the need to insist that he has a wife who the rest of the cast simply never get to meet.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Corky gives a blistering Take That! to the town council at his request for funds being denied.
    Corky: So what I'm understanding here - correct me, if I'm wrong - is that you're not givin' me any money. So now I'm left basically with nothin'. I'm left with zero, in which, in which, what can I do with zero, you know? What can I - I can't do anythin' with it! I need to, this is my life here we're talking about! We're not just talkin' about, you know, somethin' else. We're talking about my life, you know? And it's forcing me to do somethin' I don't wanna do. To leave. To, to go out and just leave and go home and say, make a clean cut here and say: 'No way, Corky, you're not puttin' up with these people!' And I'll tell you why I can't put up with you people - because you're bastard people! That's what you are! You're just bastard people! And I'm goin' home and I'm gonna, I'm gonna bite my pillow, is what I'm gonna do!
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The characters' lives after the show get some wrap-up after the climax of the film.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Corky St. Clair might be a closeted example. He often buys clothes for his wife Bonnie, a reclusive lady nobody ever seems to have met.
  • Why Are We Whispering?: Corky St. Clair does this when Lloyd speaks very quietly about his concerns about the production, repeatedly telling him to speak louder—and then telling him he's gone too loud when he reaches a pretty normal volume.
  • Yandere: Corky, who flips between gushing Minnesota Nice-like attitude to throwing Gosh Darn It to Heck! tantrums.