Christopher Guest's Driving Lessons seems more like a no-nonsense Hollywood satire than his previous mockumentaries. Again, he gets the most from his fine troupe even with narrative and tonal gaffes.
The send-up of movie-making has been done of late in films like State and Main and on view now is the shooting of Home for Purim with unexceptional longtime actors Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara) and Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer).
This small-scaled melodrama is cast with promising young performers, as played by Parker Posey, Christopher Moynihan, and Rachael Harris. On-line chatter puts them to the fore as potential Oscar contenders. This stirs the production and gets the journalists gossipy. The studio head (Ricky Gervais) emphasizes to the scenarists (Bob Balaban and Michael McKean) that in order to a gain a larger audience it has to become less Jewish.
The aggrandizing of the awards season is dealt with in soft, pungent deadpan execution. The dialogue in the screenplay concocted by Guest and Eugene Levy has some clever snap to it as the sense to the characterizations are in the present. In the understated approach, the insightful and the wacky aren't seamlessly stylized, while some may wait for the ultimate punchline that never occurs.
If the pervading feeling is that Guest has too neatly compacted his targeting of Hollywood, then the gags have more a payoff due to the improvisational talents of the mostly thinly-drawn characters.
Posey has settled nicely into Guest's ensemble, making the most of her scenes with Moynihan with sincerity. Of course, humor is hardly absent from the likes of John Michael Higgins as an babbling publicist or Jennifer Coolidge as a conceited producer. Guest is the goofy "fuzzy-headed" director and Jane Lynch and Fred Willard are hilarious scene-stealing presenters out for television ratings.
Exceeding her touching work in A Mighty Wind opposite veteran colleague Levy, O'Hara does more than look the part of a middle-aged actress who has never reached diva status. Whether strident or emotional her performance has expression that Driving Lessons never achieves in its shape-shifting, muted, wide-ranging attempts at hilarity.