When I saw that Christopher Guests new film Mascots was opening at TIFF it was at the top of my list. Never mind that it will be available in a few weeks on Netflix (it is a Netflix-produced film). I was quite willing to pay the Premium dollar to see the world premiere with a theatre full of Corky St Clair fans and with Christopher Guest, Parker Posey , Bob Baliban and Jane Lynch sitting three rows behind me.
But there was some risk. Could this film hold up to the high expectation I had given that Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show are two films I have laughed through maybe 15 times each.
The verdict? I loved it. Using his proven “monumentally” formula, Guest has created another winner based on a convention for mascots with a competition to win the coveted Fluffy. A few times, I had to wipe away tears of laughter . The usual troupe of Guest’s favourite actors create new characters and improv their dialogue through a hilarious collection of vignettes. There is even a surprise appearance that delighted the audience. No spoilers.
If you like Christopher Guest’s quirky previous work, you won’t be disappointed. I can hardly wait for its appearance on Netflix so I can watch it again. It gets four stars. I am waiting for the five star film.
Within half an hour of watching Mascots I was back in line under an umbrella to see Queen of Katwe, another African-themed film shot in Uganda, directed by a Ugandan, Mira Nair, starring black actors, including David Olyelowo, who played Martin Luther King in Selma, and banked by the Disney corporation. It is a wonderful movie about a young illiterate Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi, from the Katwe slums of Kampala, who becomes an international chess champion. A feel-good true story of someone rising from obscurity through hard work and intellect. And as a treat, the real Phiona was at the screening of the film.
Unlike the Nigerian film I saw yesterday, the direction was impeccable, and the soundtrack was much more representative of good quality modern Afican music. The kids in the film, and there were lots of them, were wonderfully naive and natural. I have been in these streets and communities and that, too made the movie more meaningful to me. Nair said that she jokes that this is the first African movie made by Disney without animals in it but Africa is more than giraffes and AIDS and she welcomed the chance to have Africans make a movie about the Africa they know. One of the young boys who has a major role in the movie is a kid who lives in Nair’s neighborhood in Kampala.
This film will be released this fall and anyone who has an Africa connection will relate to it and love the message that genius is not owned by any one race or gender. Of course all the analogies between the game of chess and this game of life are not lost. I give it four stars of five, knowing that my delight in revisiting Ugandan streets and people prejudices me. The premiere audience gave it a standing ovation tonight, an indication that they liked it, too.