The Daily Stream: Merry Christ(opher Guest)mas! Watch Waiting For Guffman To Celebrate, Why Don't Ya?

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Waiting for Guffman"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Blaine, Missouri is celebrating its sesquicentennial (that's 150 years), and to commemorate the event, the town has commissioned a theatre piece based on its own history. At the helm is local drama teacher and former off-off-off-Broadway performer Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest), and he assembles a cast featuring two married travel agents who are hammy community theatre staples (Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard), the town dentist who has always longed to be on the stage (Eugene Levy), and a Dairy Queen server looking for a good time (Parker Posey). As they are rehearsing their production of "Red, White, and Blaine," Corky gets word that a man named Mort Guffman is coming from New York to see the show, stirring up all of the small townsfolk that they might be on the precipice of stardom.

Getting the mockumentary right

At this point, the mockumentary is a well-worn comedic form. Thanks to so many years of "The Office," "Parks and Recreation," and "Modern Family" on television, mockumentaries are actually on the decline now, as the trappings have become incredibly familiar. Yet even with this explosion of the mockumentary, no one does them better than Christopher Guest. Going back to Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap," which Guest starred in and co-wrote, this is not just someone who understands comedy, but some knows how to make what would actually be a compelling human interest documentary.

It starts with how it's shot. Guest makes the incredibly wise choice to film "Waiting for Guffman" on Super 16mm. This strips this small town, backstage story of any kind of gloss or artifice. The grainy film stock aids in the feeling that someone just decided to pick up a camera and start following these eccentric folks around, recalling a real documentary like Errol Morris' "Vernon, Florida." Sure, faces in the movie like Catherine O'Hara or Guest himself would be familiar to an audience, but removing any semblance of construction makes these characters feel like regular flesh and blood humans.

What also helps is that all of the dialogue is entirely improvised. For me, improvisation can be an incredibly tricky proposition, as people often derail a film's momentum searching for a joke that doesn't serve the story or characters. When making a mockumentary, immediacy is the most important thing imaginable, and the only way you are going to capture that is by having people speak things for the very first time. Guest also doesn't hire improvisers who are just looking for a laugh. He trusts that he and co-writer Eugene Levy have constructed these characters' lives enough for the comedy to come naturally, which is a well-founded trust.

A great movie about the theatre

Anyone who has ever been apart of community theatre — or even high school theatre — will find so much truth in "Waiting for Guffman." The overeager spirit of every character fills this film with an incredible amount of earnest joy. Ultimately, their eagerness and confidence in their theatrical abilities are relatively unfounded, but that won't break the spirits of people who just want to put on a show and entertain an audience.

What I love so much about "Red, White, and Blaine" is that it isn't some sort of atrocity. The people up on that stage aren't babes lost in the woods. They are adults doing their best. While they aren't great singers, they can mostly carry a tune. While they aren't great dancers, they attack their limited choreography with vigor. Ultimately, the reason the show exists is to please the people of this small town, who are the cast's friends, family, and acquaintances. It's like a parent seeing their kid in a school play, where the fact that the kid remembered their lines and went up on that stage is enough to thrill.

Of course, the movie wants to have a little fun laughing at their confidence too. The fact that any of them believe this show is their ticket to Broadway in any way, shape, or form is patently ridiculous, but that feeling doesn't come from a malicious place that punches down at these folks. You know their dreams will never come true, but you want to support them anyway because you see how much this show and performing meant to them. In the end, their play accomplishes what it initially set out to do, and that is enough to be proud of.

Why watch this on Christmas?

Admittedly, "Waiting for Guffman" has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. It features none of the sentiment of the season. It doesn't even take place in winter. So why today, Christmas Day, would you watch something that doesn't have anything to do with Christmas? 

Look, we all know the holiday classics that we come to year after year after year. "It's a Wonderful Life," "Home Alone," and "Die Hard" have provided enough yuletide delight for generations of people. I happen to be someone who doesn't subscribe to the notion that you have to watch a certain kind of movie at a certain time of year. You don't have to solely watch horror movies in October, and you are just as free to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" in the middle of May, if you so please.

You should watch "Waiting for Guffman" today simply because it is one of the funniest films ever made, and a delightful way to spend 83 minutes. Also, if you want to make your own odd Christmas tradition that you know no one else is going to have, picking a film like this to be your Christmas Day watch would certainly achieve that goal.