Christopher Guest is the best at what he does – unfortunately, with Netflix original Mascots, what he does is getting a little wearisome. Ever since his break alongside Michael McKean and Harry Shearer in 1984’s Spinal Tap, Guest has built an incredibly fruitful directorial career on a series of uniquely hilarious mockumentaries, Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003). Although the formula was established early on with Guffman, each film managed to provide a refreshing twist on the proceedings, documenting the distinctly American oddballs of diverse cultural industries: small town theatre; dog shows; American folk music. While there’s some fun to be hand in Mascots, it fails to bring anything new to the table, ultimately retreading well-worn territory.
Here, Guest enters the banal and bizarre world of sports mascots, bringing along many of his regular cast of actors as well as a wealth of newcomers. The film follows a number of contestants in an international Sports Mascots competition, the WMAs. Each mascot hopes to attain the highest honour in the field, the ‘Gold Fluffy.’ The ensemble cast includes Zach Woods and Sarah Barker as Mike and Mindy Murray, co-mascots and quarrelling spouses, Chris O’ Dowd as standout, but underused mascot ‘The Fist’ and Tom Bennett as the newest member in an English Mascotting dynasty, Sidney the Hedgehog. Guest-regulars such as Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard and Susan Yeagley all make appearances too. Posey stands out as the eccentric performer behind Alvin the Armadillo – although she recalls her character in Waiting For Guffman a little too closely, down to the constant gum-chewing.
Absent this time around are McKean and Shearer, as well as long-time collaborator Eugene Levy – the latter’s absence in particular is felt. While Mascots continues with Guest’s trademark mockumentary formula, it does little to reinvent or reinvigorate: Many of the characters are basic rehashes of those in previous films and the familiar narrative is now stringently formulaic. Despite this, Mascots is packed with enough laughs to make it worthwhile viewing for newcomers. Long time Guest fans may be split – some will relish in the nostalgia and the very fact of a new film from the director, his first since 2006’s For Your Consideration. Others, however, will be disappointed by both its reliance on conventions and its frequent deviations: while, narrative-wise, Mascots is nothing new, Guest’s stylistic approach often borders on straightforward drama, like For Your Consideration, rather than faux documentary. Fraught with multiple camera angles and impossible-for-documentary shots, Mascots lacks the intimacy of previous efforts.
As with Guest’s other films, there’s a delight to be had in watching odd, though deeply earnest characters wax lyrical about such ridiculously trivial subjects, adding a dimension of charm and legitimacy to a purely amateur affair. Unfortunately, while everyone seems to be having fun here, Mascots is neither as fresh or as funny as it should be and simply doesn’t stand up to its predecessors. This is an enjoyable enough effort, but ultimately disappoints as Guest’s first film in ten years.