We love mockumentaries. They encapsulate everything we love about thoughtful, planned comedy. That, and the fact that they’re constantly making us ask important questions. Question like, are they real? Are they fake? Is life really this ridiculous from time to time? Do these people actually walk and breathe the same air and walk on the same ground as us, or are they simple inventions of clever writers’ absurd minds? We can’t say for sure, but we can say we love them dearly.
This Is Spinal Tap
This Is Spinal Tap is the film that most consider the father of the genre. It stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as British heavy metal band Spinal Tap. The film is meant to satirize the pretentiousness and spoiled nature of rock and roll stars, as well as the unfounded pomp of the documentaries that try to humanize their stories. Think The Last Waltz and A Hard Day’s Night, but with less cringy eye-rolling, and more laughter.
Best In Show
Who knew that competitive dog shows could be so… intense? Best In Show is a mockumentary about real competitive dog showing, and profiles a group of very different, very ridiculous, and very made up dog owners (The incredibly talented cast of funny people includes Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, and a ton of others) as they prepare for a big dog show. It’s brilliantly written, hysterically funny, and wonderfully acted from start to finish. All in all, it’s an undeniably masterful representation of everything a mockumentary should be.
Waiting for Guffman
Another Christopher Guest classic, Waiting For Guffman is about a visionary and eccentric theater director named Corky St. Clair, who has been commissioned to run a community production in the small made up town of Blaine, Missouri. The show, Red, White and Blaine, is in commemoration of the town’s 150th anniversary celebration, and the film chronicles the preparation leading up to the play. It provides brief profiles on the cast, including leads Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara), two married travel agents who perform on the side for fun; a handsome mechanic (and possible love interest for St. Clair?) Johnny Savage (Matt Keesler), who has no experience acting; Clifford Wooley (Lewis Arquette) a longtime resident of Blaine and retired taxidermist; and others.
Things get kicked up a couple notches when it’s revealed that St. Clair has pulled a couple strings from his “Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway” days to get famous Broadway producer Mort Guffman to come out and critique the show. Will Red, White and Blaine make it to Broadway? Or will it fall flat on its face?
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakstan
Even if you’ve never seen Borat, you’ve probably heard someone very, very poorly imitate the main character from this insanely popular Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary about a Kazakh journalist named Borat Sagdiyev, who travels to the United States to record his interactions with Americans. It has a very realistic documentary vibe to it because a lot of the interviews are totally unscripted, even though Borat’s character is obviously fake.
Just to give you a small idea of what to expect from this film, within the first few minutes after arriving the United States, Borat washes his face with toilet water, defecates in front of Trump Tower, and masturbates to a mannequin in a shop window. And it doesn’t slow down from there. The film was banned in literally every Arab country except Lebanon and the UAE, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from good film, it’s you know you’re doing it right when people in other places are trying to stop people from seeing your work.
What We Do in the Shadows
Vampires. Who are they? What do they do? What kind of lives are they living in 2018—or 2014, based on when this documentary was first released? All those questions and more are answered in What We Do In The Shadows, a hilarious mockumentary film about a group of vampires (Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr) who live together in Wellington, New Zealand. Viewers are invited to witness this group of millennia-old vampires as they learn about things like dating and clubbing in the 21st Century, as well as about technological inventions like computers, YouTube, and modern cameras.
One of the mockumentary genre’s classics, Zelig is a 1983 film written by, directed by, and starring Woody Allen (And co-starring Mia Farrow) about a man named Leonard Zelig (Allen), a “nondescript enigma” and human chameleon of sorts, whose desire to fit in is so intense that he can literally take on the physical, emotional, and psychological characteristics of the people around him. Zelig focuses on Zelig’s time as a celebrity in the 1920’s, and features commentary from contemporary professionals, including both Saul Bellow and Susan Sontag. Aside from its plot, what we love most about Zelig is hoew it was filmed to look and feel like a 1920’s era black-and-white newsreel, interwoven with “archival” footage and then interspersed with “re-enactments” of “real” historical events. It’s the perfect example of a very, very realistic mockumentary. Plus, uh, Wood Allen in blackface.
I’m Still Here
In 2009, Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was quitting acting in order to pursue his career as a musician. It was a huge and unexpected bomb in Hollywood, and fans and friends alike were shocked by it. Little did any of us know at the time that it was an announcement that would set the stage for one of the greatest public pranks (and mockumentaries) of all time. Two years later, at the Venice Film Festival, the world was let in on the bit when Phoenix and Casey Affleck released their masterpiece, I’m Still Here. The mockumentary follows Phoenix as he embarks on his career as a rapper. The film is so authentic that when shown to potential buyers in Los Angeles, they didn’t know whether it was a failed documentary or a mockumentary, and critics didn’t know whether to label it a documentary or performance art. We weren’t excited about seeing Phoenix snort cocaine and walk around with his dick out so often, but hey, who are we to judge his art, right?
Man Bites Dog
Man Bites Dog is a 1992 mockumentary about a fun-loving serial killer named Benoit Benoit Poelvoorde (Benoit Poelvoorde), who invites a camera crew along for the ride as he kills for both pleasure and business. The film was banned in several countries after its release, and while it can definitely be a bit of a difficult watch (The shocking, and at times disturbing, violence is meant to contrast with Poelvoorde’s affable and charismatic personality), it’s an important satire that directs very real criticism on our culture’s fixation on violence, and the media’s trend toward sensationalized news stories.