After opening at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary Mascots was released to Netflix this past week. As a fan of his many earlier efforts—from This Is Spinal Tap to A Mighty Wind—I greatly looked forward to his take on the surreal world of sports mascots.
Unfortunately, this might have been a mistake, as the bar set by those movies was pretty high.
Mascots revolves around the struggles of five teams competing for the Gold Fluffy, the highest achievement of the Professional Mascots Association. One team is a feuding couple, trying to maintain a brave face while on-camera, but killing each other behind the scenes. A second subplot involves a son trying to live up to his father’s and grandfather’s legacies in a hedgehog costume.
Then there is an aging dancer who sees this as her last chance to go all the way, as well as a solo act simply trying to up his game, and an Irish bad boy whose story never really fleshes out.
As these five subplots buzz around, we also get to see behind the curtain as competition organizers try to hold everything together while vying for a broadcast contract with a fourth-tier cable company, and two former champs feud while trying to judge the contest.
Still with me?
Now, throw in a few more secondary characters and cameos, and you have an ensemble of about 25 characters pushing for air time.
Now as confusing and thin as this might seem, Guest has been able to make it work before in pieces like A Mighty Wind and Best in Show, using many of the same amazing actors: Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, etc.
Unfortunately, things don’t seem to gel as nicely in Mascots, and the whole film seems to lack the heart of the earlier efforts. I mean, how do you compete with the simple love-story of Mitch & Mickey?
This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t poignant moments in many of the subplots or that the actual mascot performances during the competition weren’t spectacular. But rather than being more than the sum of its parts, this film was surprisingly less.
This is where I think my expectations are part of the problem.
Viewed through a virgin lens, Mascots is somewhat entertaining and not a bad way to spend 89 minutes. It would make a great appetiser to tease the palate for a main course of the other meatier films. But as a dessert, it is significantly lacking.
Of individual note, Parker Posey’s interpretive dance student is painfully poignant and outrageously funny. Chris O’Dowd’s bad-ass sex fiend is completely wasted, however, and largely amounts to nothing. And I found the bickering couple—Zach Woods and Sarah Baker—completely distasteful, and the longer I saw them, the worse it got.
Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. were great but underused. Fred Willard was the only character Fred Willard has ever played. And the rest of the core ensemble barely managed more than cameos.
Mascots isn’t bad, but sadly could have been so much better.
Christopher Guest’s ‘Mascots’ fails to really cheer (Associated Press)
Latest from Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest does not go up to 11 (The Guardian)