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A brief review of "Mascots" (2016)

I forgot who it was exactly that first pointed it out, but I'm going to credit Jeff Cannata for the observation that the sign of a lazy mockumentary is when it's centered around a stage contest of some sort.  Mascots, tragically, is about a mascot competition.

The last mockumentary I've seen was the very much "meh" Internet Famous, which I thought had a few strong points, but which was weighed down with too many lazy gags and a glut of unfunny bit players.  Internet Famous was also lazily centered around a competition, but it actually managed to use its premise better than Mascots did.

It matters.  Even if you can leave aside the laziness and predictability of the premise, it's just not a good basis for comedy here.  What Mascots has set up is a very cynical, "let's all laugh at the freaks" game where we're supposed to find it inherently funny that the characters take themselves so seriously.  We're supposed to laugh at the ridiculousness of their competition.  "Who could possibly give a shit about the mascot awards?  What a bunch of idiots!  Look at how seriously they're taking it!  Ha ha ha!"

Any time you approach comedy from a vantage point of snobbery, you're setting yourself up to fail.  At the end of the day, there's just not much joy in that.  Either you keep yourself at a distance from your subject matter and you realize that you're just an asshole, or you use the subject as a mirror to see yourself in their hijinks, in which case the mean-spiritedness just isn't very funny.  Neither option sounds great.

What makes it burn all the more is that Mascots lends itself to a wider net.  This is a mockumentary that in no way needs to be about a contest.  You know what would have been equally funny?  Just showing the various performers actually being mascots.  It could have been about the 2016 playoffs of some minor baseball league with a lot of contention between the teams, and then you give the mascots all the same bits and quirks and personal drama, but against the backdrop of their actual jobs.  What would be so wrong with that, other than requiring a slightly higher budget?

In fact, wouldn't that have made the central joke drive home harder?  There's an incredible underdog tale going on in the background as six ragtag teams take each other on, but we're busy watching some guy stress about his foam plumber outfit?  If you really want to make the mascots the butt of your joke, then put them in a situation where they should be the butt of a joke.

Of course, I could be misreading the movie's intent.  Maybe it is trying to show genuine hope and humanity in its players - but you'd never be able to tell since the entire cast is sleeping their way through it.

In one case, almost literally: Chris O'Dowd plays a drugged-up, sexed-out miscreant whose mascot is just a giant fist, and most of his performance is lazily smoking, drinking, or lying passed out in his trailer.  And yet he actually acquits himself best of all.

It's a Christopher Guest movie, so a fair number of his regulars show up: Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr, and more.  They're all very funny people who've made me laugh hysterically before.  Yet none of them seem like they want to be here.  There are entire conversations where it looks like they're all thinking about what they're going to have for dinner.  They drop out jokes like afterthoughts, like they had all just been shooting the shit around the water cooler and went, "Well, guess we have to go back to work now and be funny."

This puts it Mascots in a weird place for me.  It is overall an unfunny film.  But it's not necessarily a frustrating film.  It doesn't annoy me the way that, say, a bad Saturday Night Live movie does.  It just kinda feels like a dry cake or something - the ingredients were all there, the flavor was fine, but it's still a shitty dessert.

I hate to say it, but I think I actually enjoyed Internet Famous more.  Its low points were way lower, but its high points were way higher - and if I have to choose between tedium with some belly laughs sprinkled in or being bored and occasionally having a golf chuckle, I think I might go with the belly laughs.