At 12, my best friend and I thought nothing was funnier than Christopher Guest movies. We would watch “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind” on repeat and quote the best lines to each other. So when his film “For Your Consideration” came out in 2006, I waited with bated breath for it to be available at the Blockbuster near our house (remember, it was 2006).
The film is a satire of the Hollywood film industry and follows a group of actors, producers, publicists and writers as their film picks up Oscar buzz. It’s a fun comedy, but I was hyper-focused on the fictitious movie they were making, “Home for Purim.” For years, the fake movie nested in the larger film was the only thing I remembered about “For Your Consideration.” Though there are only about four scenes that depict the film inside the film, for me, it was the only thing that mattered.
“Home for Purim” follows the story of a Jewish family in the 1940s South as they come together for one last Purim with their dying mother Esther (Catherine O’Hara), only to be shaken by daughter Rachel’s (Parker Posey) lesbian lover (Rachael Harris) coming to the holiday celebrations. It’s supposed to be one big joke, but I couldn’t shake something about it.
These quick scenes of a fake movie showed me a piece of representation that I hadn’t realized I needed. At the time, I had never seen a movie with Jewish lesbians in it; even now, over 15 years later, I still haven’t seen more than five.
My mother is a queer Jew and while I wasn’t out in 2006, I would soon come out, too. And it wasn’t just us. Growing up, I knew many queer Jewish women: my rabbi, a teacher at my Hebrew school, my friend Davi’s mom, my mom’s girlfriends, my mom’s friends. There was no shortage of women like me, but I had never seen anyone like that in a movie, and for that, my tween self felt tied to “Home for Purim,” joke or not.
I largely forgot about “For Your Consideration” until it was pushed back to the front of my mind as I was planning my engagement party. The friend hosting the event suggested March 19; the rabbi’s son that I am marrying said, “I think that weekend is Purim.” We decided to make it the theme. The party planner — and half of our guest list — asked, “What’s Purim?”
I have even met Jews who have never heard of Purim; I know it’s no Yom Kippur or Passover. That’s part of the joke in “Home for Purim,” which plays Purim as an important, emotional holiday that the whole family needs to come back for — the “Jewish Easter.” For an American Jewish audience, this joke hits, but for others, it doesn’t — and doesn’t seem meant to.
The family in “Home for Purim” celebrates Purim around the dinner table, complete with noisemakers and crowns — but in no part of the movie do they explain what Purim is. In the same scene, which happens to be the climax of the movie-within-a-movie, a bereft Esther says that she has been a “Haman” to her daughter. Her daughter cries back, “You aren’t a Haman, Mama. You are Queen Esther.” Again, there’s no explanation for the audience of who those characters are, or any telling of the story of Purim at all.
I can’t imagine what non-Jewish (and maybe even some non-practicing Jewish) audiences thought of this scene. It feels like an inside joke; those who know, know. This theme appears elsewhere in the movie, too: In an earlier scene, the actress who plays Rachel’s lover, Mary Pat (Rachael Harris) is worried that the audience won’t know her character is gay even though it’s revealed that the couple sleeps in the same bed. The director, played by Guest himself, decides to let them go off script, which sends the writers into a tailspin. The writers don’t want anything to be changed. They don’t want their work marred by a ham-fisted explanation. There is something to that — the idea that in both Jewishness and queerness, an explanation isn’t always needed. The audience of the fake film should implicitly understand the queer themes, just as we, the audience of the real film, should understand the Jewish ones.
In the third act of “For Your Consideration,” a studio head asks the producer of “Home for Purim” to tone “the themes” down because the movie is getting real Oscar buzz. She asks in genuine confusion, “What are the themes?” The studio head replies, “Well, the Jewishness.” The studio changes the film’s title to “Home for Thanksgiving” to make it more palatable. We assume the movie still has queer content, but none of the new movie is actually shown — almost as if Guest himself is telling us, “You don’t need to see it… you’ve already seen that kind of film.”
“For Your Consideration” was met with mixed reviews at the time of its release. The New York Times said that its “satire only glancingly collides with reality. To begin, a movie like ‘Home For Purim’ would never be made, even in the outermost reaches of independent cinema.” There is something deeply sad in that, both because it’s true and because maybe the difficulty of creating a movie like that is part of the satire… something the New York Times just didn’t get.
I will probably never get a queer Purim movie, but that 12-year-old looking up at her childhood TV screen still wishes she could.
Late Take is a series on Alma where we revisit Jewish pop culture of the past for no reason, other than the fact that we can’t stop thinking about it?? If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail email@example.com with “Late Take” in the subject line.