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I'm a huge Christopher Guest fan. Excuse me — Baron Christopher Guest. The writer-director of Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap, and others, has a way with turning real-life situations into mockumentary gold. Which is why, when his newest offering, Mascots, debuted earlier this month on Netflix, I watched it immediately.
It wasn't Guest's best film by any stretch, but it was fine, sometimes chuckle-worthy. Unfortunately, I found one storyline so problematic that I ran to the internet to read about all the outrage people were experiencing in solidarity.
But I found nothing. Crickets.
The movie is middling at best, and maybe like everyone else seems to be doing, I should just put it behind me. But over a week later, I can't stop googling it or thinking about it. And since no one else is saying it, I think I might just have to.
I’m talking about the fat-shaming. It happens during the storyline featuring a tall, thin, basically attractive man named Mike, played by Zach Woods and married to a woman named Mindy, played by Sarah Baker, the actress famous for playing Louis CK's overweight love interest in an episode of Louie. Side-by-side, Baker and Woods, as a couple and as a mascoting duo, look funny for obnoxious reasons: She appears shorter and stouter; he looks taller and fitter. The marriage between the two characters, we learn, is on the fritz because the previous year at The Golden Fluffy Awards (the Oscars of the mascoting world) Mike cheated on Mindy with Parker Posey's character, Cindi.
Woods plays his role as a lovable goofball, while Baker plays hers with a quiet reflectiveness. She is beyond long-suffering — she is heartbroken. When the couple returns to the event this year, having gone through couples therapy, Mindy is clearly still angry. But what's worse: Woods is afraid of her — much more afraid than contrite about his own behavior. I know, fear reads funnier than apologetic. But unfortunately, his fear makes the whole thing come across as if it’s Baker's problem: If she could just chill out and forget that her husband slept with a hotter, thinner woman, maybe he wouldn't sleep with any more of them.
When the two characters encounter Cindi with her even-more-attractive sister, Laci (played by Susan Yeagley), Baker's expression of horror is the only one that makes any sense. Laci looks like she’s about to eat Mike for dinner; meanwhile, Cindi and Mike lock in these expressions of terror, as if Mindy is about to go, "Hi-yah!" Miss Piggy-style on them. Frankly, I wish she had. But “terror” seems like the wrong emotional choice here. Embarrassed? Maybe. Ashamed? Better. Baker's husband, by shtupping Cindi, has (in addition to cheating) confirmed all the horrible things society has probably already beaten into Baker's head: She doesn't deserve him, because, look at her! She's fat.
A few scenes later, when Mike makes out with Laci in the elevator — and presumably follows her back to her room — it plays to the audience like he can't help it. She's just so hot! His wife's so fat! Who can blame him?
I do not want to imply that Baker can’t hold her own against actresses many might find prettier or at the very least skinnier. Her comedic deftness holds up amid Guest’s sea of established improv comedy masters. Not only that, but Baker is very pretty, and not just in that condescending “pretty face” kind of way. The issue lies more with the fact that Mike gets away with cheating because, in light of Mindy’s “shortcomings” — or let’s just say it, “fatcomings” — the audience is supposed to forgive him for not turning away someone that is exceedingly not fat.
All of this makes me want vindication not just for Baker’s character, but for all of us who have ever felt like somehow we are letting our partners down by not meeting the correct weight, height or style standards. It makes me want to scream: You don’t deserve to be disrespected because you fall beneath expectations established by a world before it had gotten a chance to know you, by people who don’t know you, by people who have no idea what they are missing by not knowing you. And if it’s your husband, and he’s establishing standards that for whatever reason, don’t encompass you, then fuck that guy! He’s the broken one. He’s the one who needs fixing.
But all Mindy gets in the way of payback is a silly, mascot-cushioned fistfight with Mike, writhing on the floor, dramatically losing the contest, and even more dramatically losing their dignity — something Mindy is pretty close to running out of early in the movie.
In the traditional Guest-ian "one year later" portion of the film, the couple is still together, still miserable. No consequences have been levied for Mike. It's almost implied that his indiscretions were the fault of his having been a mascot, but now that the couple has given that up, he won't be cheating again — although Mindy doesn’t seem convinced. As their children play off-camera in the yard outside their home, she remains on the verge of tears. The ending to their storyline, unlike the rest of the characters, feels unfinished.
As one of the centerpieces of this mediocre ensemble comedy, Mindy and Mike's storyline fails repeatedly. It either belongs in a different movie — a drama where a societally marginalized wife feels like she can't leave her dirtbag of a husband — or else it deserves more by way of an ending, like Mindy happily leaving for a date with a much more successful man in their newly designed open marriage, leaving Woods behind at their "happy" suburban home to watch their children play.
In a comedy like this one, Mindy deserves it, or else the moral of the story becomes, “Cheating isn’t wrong if your wife is fat.” A lesson like that one takes an already mediocre Mascot and cheapens it.