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One of the greatest tricks in film comedy is self-awareness. Remember W.C. Fields flinching on cue as he waits for a handful of artificial snow to hit his face in The Fatal Glass of Beer?

Feeling the buzz: For Your Consideration and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny 

Guest at best while Jack goes splat

For Your Consideration opens Wednesday in select theaters.

click to enlarge Harry Shearer in For Your Consideration - PHOTO BY SUZANNE TENNER/WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES
  • Photo by Suzanne Tenner/Warner Independent Pictures
  • Harry Shearer in For Your Consideration

One of the greatest tricks in film comedy is self-awareness. Remember W.C. Fields flinching on cue as he waits for a handful of artificial snow to hit his face in The Fatal Glass of Beer? More recent, lowbrow comedies have elicited considerable laughs out of acknowledging the stupidity of their humor. The new comedies For Your Consideration and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny both revolve around this kind of self-referential humor, but the former works far better than the latter. The biggest surprise in For Your Consideration is that despite featuring almost every actor from director Christopher Guest's last three mockumentaries, it's a straightforward narrative. The second surprise is just how effective it is. The scenes and dialog are so packed with jokes that they almost fly by (it was nearly a minute before I realized Jennifer Coolidge's character, a movie producer, was drinking red wine with a straw), but the sense of sadness and melancholy from A Mighty Wind and Waiting for Guffman is also amplified.

Working from a 27-page outline with several scripted scenes, Consideration has a premise ripe for comedy. A low-budget drama called Home for Purim is in production, and it's as bad as its title, the tale of a World War II-era Southern Jewish family with a dying mother and gay daughter that has a musical number. Hilarity comes from the fact that the story subtly draws you into the hype. It isn't that different from other "prestige" releases (there's actually a real Oscar-bait film about Purim, One Night with the King, in current release), and as buzz within the film becomes more palpable, you start to wonder if the actors can pull it off. Guest's other films have shown suspense leading to disappointment. Here you start to hope that maybe, somehow, characters won't be disappointed.

Guest directs an enormous ensemble here—more than 20 major characters in 86 minutes of screen time. But in this case, the major characters are developed more effectively than in his previous films, particularly Catherine O'Hara, whose Marilyn Hack is both horrifying and heartbreaking. As the character declines into bizarre, too-tight jumpsuits and blink-filled interviews, O'Hara conveys the character's increasingly desperate inner life. Marilyn finally finding out if she's received the nomination is one of the best film moments this year.

Consideration is grounded in reality, according to Eugene Levy, who co-wrote the outline and appears as Harry Shearer's inattentive agent. Levy has said that inspiration came from Oscar rumors about his work in A Mighty Wind. In the new film, the desperation in the characters' eyes as the awards near has the painful ring of truth. It probably deserves real Oscar nods, which would only make it funnier.

Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny opens Wednesday throughout the Triangle.

Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny is based on a long-running self-referential joke, in which Jack Black and Kyle Gass (playing versions of themselves nicknamed "J.B." and "K.G.") take the stage with two acoustic guitars and sing loud, profanity-filled songs about their own greatness. What transcends the joke in live performances and on their 2001 album is that they're just so damned exuberant that the audience buys into the hype. I saw them play live at the Lincoln Theatre, and their performances of "Double Team" and "Explosivo" were as effective as any "serious" rock group.

As a longtime fan of the D, it is my sad duty to report that their long-awaited feature film falls flat. Chronicling the D's formation and rise to power, it opens promisingly enough, with young J.B. (Troy Gentile, who also played Black's younger counterpart in Nacho Libre) escaping his religious home in Kickapoo with the encouragement of demon-rock legend Ronnie James Dio. These early scenes are energetic, goofy and profane as hell, but the energy unexpectedly dissolves the moment the adult Jack Black appears on screen. The film dawdles for about a third of its running time before letting him and Gass fall into their onstage relationship, with lame gags recycled from The Blues Brothers, complete with flung beer bottles and a destructive car chase.

The biggest mistake is that director Liam Lynch (who co-wrote the script with the D) stages most of the action outside of the D's songs. On stage, the D's greatest trick is their energy, whether it's Gass getting an extended riff from his acoustic guitar or Black dancing around the stage (even Nacho Libre was smart enough to let Black dance). Aside from a series of "Frat Pack" cameos and a contrived plot about a demonic guitar pick, the film mostly boils down to Black and Gass sitting around a dingy apartment getting stoned. That's probably how the D really did get started, but where's the entertainment in that? It's the posing without the exuberance.

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