'The Big Tease' Review: A Little Off the Top
Have you ever experienced something that you genuinely enjoyed, but then found yourself unable to explain to anyone why you liked it? I’m not talking about a guilty pleasure or something that you feel shameful about getting your kicks from. I’m talking about a show you think is really good, but you can’t just say it’s got an intriguing plot or a big-name actor; that band you like that’s super weird and original, but just so out there that you’re not sure how to recommend it; a movie you watched but can’t find any better descriptors for than that it’s “heartfelt.”
Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s where I’m at with 1999’s The Big Tease, a mockumentary starring Craig Ferguson as Scottish hairdresser, Crawford Mackenzie. Initially, he and the camera crew following him believe that they’ve been invited to compete in an annual competition in Los Angeles as one of the top stylists in the world, trying to win the illustrious Platinum Scissors. But his mirth quickly dissolves into debt and wrath once he discovers that the invitation was only meant as an audience member, and his maxed-out credit cards will not be refunded. Stranded in California with only days until the show, Crawford makes some desperate gambles to make it on stage and show off his skills.
It’s not a terribly engrossing starting point, but it’s a fine baseline for what will eventually blossom from it. Ferguson is charming as ever, with a wry Scottish wit and a very energetic performance, but few of the early jokes really hit. The reveal isn’t necessarily obvious, but still rather predictable, and handled, for the most part, as one would expect. The main “villain,” reigning champion, Stig (David Rasche) is loud, brash, and brazenly overconfident, but also suffers for most of the film, as he’s really too much of a caricature for the vast majority of the runtime without truly owning his scenes. I chuckled here and there for about the first half of the movie but still couldn’t find a reason to give it a full nod of approval.
That is until one pivotal moment. A simple interaction where I dropped every pretense and said, “Oh. Oh, this is where it’s going to take off.”
In a desperate attempt to schmooze his way into the contest, Crawford goes to Sean Connery’s American agent, Candy (played by Frances Fisher), to get the Hollywood legend’s endorsement. As she tries to turn the washed up hairdresser away for good, he quickly assesses her hair type and history of treatment from across the room, in front of all of her employees, bringing everything to a halt. Taken aback, Crawford seizes the opportunity to fix her style, and, by extension, her life, and instantly wins her over while displaying his fantastic talent.
From that point on, the character interactions are all so much better, the plot moves naturally rather than just hopping between comedic pinpoints, and you can easily fall into the entire artifice of it all so much easier. Not only that, but it makes the earlier segments better, just by their existence as build up to this superb moment of acting and writing.
If there’s one slight I’d have to level against The Big Tease, it’s that it doesn’t really do the whole mockumentary thing very well. Sure, there are the obviously staged bits of direct-to-camera interviews like a reality show cutaway and the interjections from the “director and crew,” but the plot and acting still have a bit of that stilted feel – not enough to rip you out of all of it, mind you, but the film never manages to really fall into the genre like A Mighty Wind or its compatriots.
While I can’t really put my finger on what exactly makes The Big Tease work, there’s something about the combination of its parts that make it stand out. I was engaged, I laughed, I cheered, I felt like a happier person after finishing it. If you ever had an inkling to watch You Don't Mess with the Zohan, but realized that would be a terrible idea and you should find something better, this will definitely fix that itch. It’s a movie clearly built off of passion and joy, and it radiates effortlessly to anyone watching.