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Mascots review: Netflix’s new original film is hidden under a bad disguise

Mascots review: Mockumentary pioneer Christopher Guest returns with his first feature film in ten years (he’s bringing it to Netflix), but was the wait worth it?

movie reviews Updated: Oct 12, 2016 10:53 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Mascots

Mascots is an occasionally funny film, but not a consistently funny one.(Netflix)

Mascots
Director - Christopher Guest
Cast - Jane Lynch, Chris O’Dowd, Parker Posey, Zach Woods
Rating - 2/5

The Christopher Guest Repertory (an unofficial title of course) is back. These words may or may not mean anything to you, but if you have had the good fortune of watching even one of Guest’s many classic mockumentaries, it is likely that you are clearing your schedule as we speak.

But wait. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mascots is his first feature film in a decade – although he did make an excellent HBO show (Family Tree) in the meantime, which promptly got cancelled, probably because it was so good. And while Mascots is made out of the same mold as his other films, it never quite attains that same sense of inspired lunacy as the ridiculously brilliant Best in Show or Waiting for Guffman.

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If you’re lost (understandable), let me catch you up.

Christopher Guest invented a genre. At the very least, he sort of invented it. That, in itself, is reason enough for everyone to check his movies out. But fair warning: They aren’t for everybody. Also, it is probably for the best if you didn’t start with this one.

Overanalysed, it would appear that most of his movies (especially Mascots) are rather nihilistic. They’re populated with buffoons deluding themselves into believing their existence is of some worth (it really isn’t). The way Guest portrays this absurdity by setting his movies in the oddest subcultures (dog fairs, small town pageants, or in this case: The World Mascot Association Championship), and filming them in this faux-documentary manner, only adds to the pompousness of it all.

Zach Woods, who is so great as a perpetually nervous, twitchy, insect-man in other stuff, is only average here. (Scott Garfield/Netflix)

He has his actors deliver their lines with stone-faced solemnity of chess commentators, even when they are dressed as giant middle fingers, which happens quite often in this movie. Their worlds, populated with more weirdos than you could shake a stick at, are curiously isolated. It seems as if these movies exist in their own Twilight Zone-esque alternate reality, in which everyone takes their job really seriously, even when it means dressing up as a giant turd – which is, once again, something that happens in this movie.

All this was a long-winded way of clueing everyone in, and also describing the experience of watching one of Christopher Guest’s movies. The only difference being, in Mascots, everything is noticeably duller.

Mascots only rarely dives into the surreal territory of Guest’s previous movies. (Netflix)

‘If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’ would be a cynical way of looking at this. And in the case of Mascots, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

Guest works with a troupe, like some sort of fringe Victorian playwright. And the success of his movies, more than most others’, relies heavily on the cast’s ability to improvise – and sometimes improvise their way out of a tricky scene. The setup is already hilarious: Oddballs from all over the world gather for an international Mascot championship, but this time, the finished picture is more like a knock off than the real deal. And even though the people-disguising-themselves metaphor would be a bit too on-the-nose, I’m going to do it anyway.

It ends like a Pitch Perfect in the world of semi-pro mascots. (Netflix)

Like George A Romero (who made zombies mainstream), Guest was way ahead of his time. And like George A Romero (who then got lost in the stream of his own making), he has been overtaken by the films and TV his work inspired.

Make no mistake, everything from Modern Family to The Office and from Borat to Ali G owes a direct debt of gratitude to Guest. But sadly, this time it would be better if everyone were to just re-watch his older stuff because this doesn’t offer any real opportunity for worthwhile discussion. It offers little to no insight into any world - much less the world of professional mascots.

Only last week, I defended Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for being surprisingly fun despite offering nothing remotely new to the Tim Burton fan. While that film was the equivalent of retreating into your favourite couch after a long day, Mascots is the equivalent of being fully aware of the long day ahead of you, and refusing to get up off your favourite couch at all.

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The author tweets @NaaharRohan