The Big Picture ★★★★½

Before turning his hand to critically acclaimed mockumentaries like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, Christopher Guest made his directorial debut with this sometimes hilarious, sometimes chilling anti-Hollywood comedy wherein rookie director Kevin Bacon gets reamed by the studio system. It’s hard to know what general audiences will get out of all the insider humor (indeed, it wasn’t widely released in theaters), but if you’re the least bit knowledgeable about what routinely happens to fresh young talent in La-La Land, the film rings true at least as often as The Player (and it has more belly laughs).

Example: the opening scene, when Bacon’s competitors for a short-film award (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dan Schneider, and Jason Gould) respond with perfect fatuous pride when clips from their stupid, pretentious films are shown. Or the hellish “meetings” in which the studio head (J.T. Walsh at his most brilliantly smarmy) suggests “improvements” on Bacon’s script. Or the Pez People video, which recalls Guest’s Spinal Tap days.

The only problem is that Bacon’s idea for a movie, while substantially less foolish than the studio’s ideas, doesn’t seem like such hot stuff. This is, however, one of Bacon’s better star vehicles, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is gloriously dippy (in a rare comedic turn) as Lydia — she finds the cracked humanity in Lydia’s artsy pose. Guest’s Spinal Tap buddy Michael McKean cowrote the script and has a role.