Tuesday’s Reviews – Mascots (2016)

Chris O'Dowd, Christopher Guest, comedy, films, improvised, mockumentary, Netflix, review

I’ve had another pretty relaxed day off today. I’ve done a lot of sorting and tidying, which I of course have been putting off for a few days now. So now that my surroundings are clear my mind must also be feeling refreshed, right? Well, I can’t promise that. I’ve been working my way up to writing this review for a while and have been unable to find the best way to start it. I think I sometimes find it difficult to collect my thoughts quickly after I finally watch a film that I’ve wanted to see for a while. I should really work my schedule better so I have the time but then I wouldn’t be the same old unorganised mess that you’ve all come to know and love. So whilst I doubt this will ever be mistaken for the greatest thing I’ve ever written, I can at least take comfort in the fact that I’m finally getting around to taking something of my Netflix ‘to watch’ list. This is one of those films that I regularly scroll past during those moments when I’m desperately looking for something to watch. For the past few weeks I’ve guiltily ignored it in favour of rewatching everything I’ve ever seen. Not today though. Today I conquer something even greater than my ever expanding wardrobe. And it feels fucking great.

Mascots is the latest ensemble mockumentary from director Christopher Guest. Guest has developed a talent for exploring the world surrounding certain niche hobbies. Previous films have explored dog shows (Best in Show, 2000), second rate folk singers (A Mighty Wind, 2003), and Hollywood’s awards seasons (For Your Consideration, 2006). Teaming up Netflix, Guest’s latest film takes us behind the scenes of a competition for sport’s mascots. Mascots reunites the director with many of his previous collaborators to create a similar sort of improvised scenario in which various oddballs compete for the top prize in their field. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the films that preceded this one will almost certainly find it all incredibly familiar but, probably, won’t find that to be much of a problem.

After all, by this point he really knows what he’s doing and his cast are all let loose to create as much hilarity and chaos as possible. Obviously a great deal of the fun comes from the introduction of the mascots themselves and there is a veritable feast of wacky costumes to indulge in. There’s the husband and wife team (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker) who spend their spare time dressed as a turtle and an octopus trying to encourage baseball fans. Then the lovable loser (Christopher Moynihan) who has found a purpose as Jack the Plumber, the mascot to a Highschool football team. The third generation mascot for a low league British football team who wants to prove himself without hurting his father’s feelings (Tom Bennett). Finally, there are the more eccentric entries like the interpretative dancer who dresses as an armadillo (Paker Posey) and the Irish sleaze who skates around a hockey dressed as a fist and is constantly reprimanded for his lewd and violent behaviour (Chris O’Dowd).

As the film progresses audience will no doubt delight in watching the routines of these colourful characters as they show off their passion and skills in front of the gathered crowd and a couple of small time TV execs hoping to pick up the competition for future broadcasts. There is a lot of fun to be had within the competition and, clearly, each member of the cast truly enjoyed their time on screen. Jane Lynch in particular shines through as a judge and ex-Mascot who delights in putting down her fellow judge (Ed Begley Jr.) for his lack of post-mascotting fame. Christopher Guest stalwart, Fred Willard gets equal chance to do what he does best as a very un-PC mascot coach and the scene in which he attempts to understand dwarfism is incredibly memorable.

There is plenty on display here that made Guest’s previous films so successful because it barely breaks from tradition. Each character is absurd but there is always a real glimpse of the humanity that lies beneath it all. His films aren’t solely based on ridiculing it’s participants but there is always a heavy dose of pathos to keep everything grounded. Within all the insanity you find yourself really caring about the people inside the costumes and the lengths they will go to prove themselves. To see people so passionate about something that is so overlooked is always going to be emotive and is provides the necessary hit of human spirit that Guest needs to stay grounded in reality.

 However, I can’t get away from the idea that Mascots works as well as it does simply because it is all so familiar. If the inescapable sense of nostalgia were taken away would it have the same impact? Certainly there are things that it could do better. There are supporting characters that could be used to greater effect (the aforementioned Fred Willard for example) and I at least found it odd that the film so easily slips in and out of the fake documentary style. I guess, on the whole, it could be tighter and more polished. There are also plenty of moments where the darker humour falls flat within the atmosphere of carefree fun. The battling of Woods and Baker’s married couple, for example, often falls into the realms of genuine aggression rather. It certainly adds a much needed element to proceedings but there are times when the whole shtick just goes a bit too far.

Still, Mascots will still be as enjoyable to any fan of Christopher Guest’s film as any of his previous films. The cast are all reliable in their own way and the sheer weirdness of this created world leaves a lot of room to play with. Considering my previous disappointments with Netflix’s original comedy films, Mascots has at least restored my faith in the website and showed that, with the right people at the healm, not everything will end up being Special Correspondents.

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