Christopher Guest has a monopoly on the mockumentary genre. First he co-wrote and starred in the seminal This Is Spinal Tap, a look inside one of rock's most ineffectual bands. Next he directed, co-wrote and starred in 1996's Waiting for Guffman, a film that skewered the world of regional theater. Now Guest sets his sights on the ultra-competitive and pretentious world of championship dog shows in his new feature Best in Show, resulting in one of the funniest movies of the year.
Guest knows a good thing when he has it and utilizes the same format as Guffman for his new film. There's no narration or personality assigned to moviemakers behind the "documentary," the camera just simply documents the action of the characters. Guest also reunites much of his Guffman cast for Best in Show including Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, who also co-wrote both scripts. The film follows five dogs and their owners as they compete not just for the "best of breed" title, but for the coveted all-around "best in show" crown at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. First there's Herbert, a big Bloodhound, owned by Harlan Pepper (played by Guest himself,) a southern gentleman who spends his spare time running a tackle store and perfecting the art of ventriloquy. Spinal Tap co-star Michael McKean plays Stephan Vanderhoof, who raises two Shih Tzus, Miss Agnes and Tyrone, along with his flamboyant companion and dog groomer Scott Donlon (John Michael Higgins, The Late Show.) Meg and Hamilton Swan (Posey and Hitchcock), a young couple obsessed with J Crew and L.L. Bean, believe their Weimaraner Beatrice has been emotional scarred by watching the pair have sex. The Swans do their best to pep up their pooch between yelling at each other. And Florida couple Cookie and Gerry Fleck (O'Hara and Levy) demonstrate love for their Norwich Terrier Winky by composing numerous musical numbers in her honor. These dogs must compete with two-time champion Standard Poodle "Rhapsody in White" owned by Sheri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge, American Pie), the much younger and trashy wife of an ancient millionaire (Patrick Cranshaw) and handled by the demanding and icy Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch).
Guest and Levy have created one of the most consistent comedies in the genre with a script that relies more on character comedy rather than joke set-ups. Much of the credit must be given to the uniformly excellent ensemble cast. Each actor takes his or her character to the limit without ever becoming one-dimensional. Of course Guest and Levy have written themselves two of the prime roles. Guest takes on a much smaller and entirely different role in Best In Show than that of Corky St. Clair in Guffman He gives a spot-on southern accent as Harlan Pepper, the only dog owner who isn't obsessed with the contest. Levy is the epitome of awkwardness as the buck-toothed menswear salesman Gerry Fleck who literally has two left
But Guest and Levy by no means monopolize the film. The laughs are evenly handed out to the entire cast. O'Hara is brilliant as Gerry's overly flirtatious wife, Cookie. The scene in which the Flecks visit one of Cookie's former flames (Larry Miller) whose fire is still burning hot is one of the best in a film full of roaringly funny moments. Posey and Hitchcock are appropriately grating as the yuppie couple trying so hard to be perfect (they even both wear braces) that they ending up prompting their dog to viciously attack one of the judges. Coolidge gives a fresh spin to the bimbo role, imbuing Sheri Ann with an endearing vacantness. But Higgins nearly steals the movie with his over-the-top turn as the uber-homosexual dog handler Scott, whose stage floor outfits steal the spotlight from his expertly groomed Shih Tzu. The supporting cast offer fine comic performances too including Ed Begley as the congenial hotel manager, Bob Balaban, as the owner of the Mayflower Dog Show and Fred Willard as a TV host whose inappropriate commentary has little to do with the dog competition.
In a season known for bringing out the dramatic big guns, Best in Show offers the perfect anecdote, a sure-fire comedy that will have you laughing from beginning to end. Best in Show is a film that more than lives up to its pedigree.