Best in Show
directed by Christopher Guest
(Warner Bros., 2000)

OK, dog owners, admit it: When no one else is around, you sometimes treat your puppy like a little person. You make comments about the television show you're watching. Out loud. You toss human food. You give embarrassingly excessive praise to an animal whose major accomplishment is sitting down or lifting a paw. But I'll bet not many of you approach the level of obsessiveness laid bare in Best in Show. (And if you do, we don't want to know about it. Some things are better left private.)

From the camp that, as individuals and together, has brought you This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman and The Princess Bride comes an off-the-wall spoof of all of those pedigreed, pampered and poofed dog shows in which the animals have more impressive names than their humans.

It's not a nasty dig at the Westminster Kennel Club crowd; there's a lot of affection in there. Like Spinal Tap, it's a fake documentary that never admits to its lack of legitimate credentials. And it leaves no one, from yuppie owners to professional handlers to commentators, off the hook.

Looming over the pack of competitors is the Mayflower Dog Show, a Philadelphia event that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Westminster show at Madison Square Garden. Its prestige is enough to trigger a frenzy in even the most backwater breeder.

Best in Show is led by Christopher Guest, who directs, writes (with Eugene Levy) and stars as Harlan Pepper, a North Carolina woodsman who brings his floppy-eared hound for competition in Philadelphia. Guest has the sense to surround himself with a bevy of actors he's worked with before, all of whom have the talent to take the basics he and Levy have wrought and improvise insanity on top of it.

So we meet the status-conscious Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock), an orthodontically enriched couple who take their dog for therapy after the mutt happens to catch them "in the act"; Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Levy and Catherine O'Hara), who are devoted to nothing except their beloved terriers; gay dog groomers Scott Donlan and Stefan Vanderhoof (John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean); trophy wife Sheri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge), her senile husband Leslie (Patrick Cranshaw) and her devoted handler Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch). By the time they actually make it to Mayflower, we know all about their foibles -- though, of course, they see themselves as the most normal of people.

And that's what makes Best in Show one of 2000's best comedies. It's a smart satire. We all know people who are just a little too something for their own good, yet mean well.

Add in Fred Willard as Buck Laughlin, the television commentator who knows absolutely nothing about dogs, dog shows or, to be honest, much else other than professional sports, and it just gets odder. Any resemblance between Buck and Joe Garagiola, the ex-baseball star who emcees the official Westminster coverage is, of course, purely coincidental.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 21 October 2001

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