When it comes to Jewish holidays that have captured the attention of entertainment honchos, Purim isn’t exactly at the top of the list. Which is crazy, right? As far as I can tell, the narrative laid out in the megillah is way better than Hanukkah or Passover—and it has better names, too (Vashti, anybody?). And yet, can you name one film about Purim, let alone an edgy indie comedy that Jews and non-Jews alike can appreciate?
Let me help you. Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration, a 2006 satirical comedy about Hollywood actors and filmmakers, is the Purim film you need in your life right now. Co-written by Guest and Eugene Levy, the film comes with a number of Guest regulars (Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Michael McKean) and cameos by Richard Kind, Simon Helberg, Ricky Gervais, and Jane Lynch, to name a few.
For Your Consideration revolves around the cast and crew of a small indie film called “Home for Purim,” a melodrama about a Jewish family, the Pishers, in the midcentury American South. Imagine a bad playwright who has just watched Fiddler on the Roof trying to imitate Tennessee Williams, and you’ll get the idea. The Pisher family matriarch, who is, of course, named Esther, loves Purim. She’s on her deathbed, and she hasn’t seen her daughter Rachel for more than a decade, so Rachel comes home for Purim. Rachel did not follow in her mother’s footsteps and was not interested in dating the nice boys in town and starting her own Jewish family, so she has been estranged. The reason for her choosing an alternate path is clear—to the viewers, but somehow not to the woefully ignorant Pisher family—when she brings home her female lover. Screaming, sighing, and swooning, in bad Southern accents with Yiddish words generously sprinkled in, ensues. Oh, and one of the main characters (the actor who plays the Pisher father_ was heretofore best known as an anthropomorphic wiener, in advertisements for a kosher hot dog company.
The film’s satire is funny and biting, and it is chock full of secondhand embarrassment—so much so that it’s sometimes painful to watch. At one point, I actually had to get up and check on the temperature of my hamentashen dough, even though I knew it had only been chilling for half an hour, just to have a reason not to look at the screen. True story. Take, for example, the below clip, a rollicking scene in which publicists played by Sandra Oh and Richard Kind discuss possible movie posters for “Home for Purim” with the film’s producer, played by Jennifer Coolidge.
Snippets of the film-within-the-film are dropped into the plot of the actual film: word on the street (actually, a random corner of the internet, or as one character calls it, the World Wide Interweb) is that various members of the “Home for Purim” cast are rumored to be favored for Oscar nominations. This results in egotism, envy, and a hysterically funny send-up of the entertainment industry that is newly relevant after this year’s Oscars debacle. Now that the film is a big deal, the cast is interviewed on various morning shows, allowing for even more cringeworthy encounters. With “Home for Purim” receiving so much unexpected attention, the higher-ups are called in to reevaluate, and they decide that the film just has way too much Jewishness in it. I won’t give away the best lines of this scene, but in a film that is self-consciously ridiculous on every level, there’s a morsel of refreshing truth in how it satirizes goyish misunderstanding of Jewishness. To make it more universally “palatable,” “Home for Purim” gets renamed “Home for Thanksgiving.” But not before a hilariously overwrought scene of the Pisher family’s Purim celebration.
So stop what you’re doing, drop a few bucks, and plan to spend an hour and 26 minutes of your life watching it. It’ll be worth it.