"Best in Show" (2000) Review
This is one of my favorite comedy films of all time.
I've literally thought about just writing that sentence, closing this entry, and walking away. It's all I feel like I need to write about a movie that's just so damn good at every level of what it wants to be (and what it achieves).
The premise alone could have been given to far lesser talents in front and behind the camera and the final film would have at least been decent, but in the hands of Christopher Guest and his improv crew, Best in Show ranks as one of the all time great mockumentaries. In fact, one of the only films I can think of in the sub-genre of mockumentaries that's better than Best in Show is another Christopher Guest project, This is Spinal Tap, so make of that what you will (and yes, I will review This is Spinal Tap in a separate review, I'm not going to tangent here, that film deserves a lengthy review all to itself).
As for Best in Show's premise, it's simple. A fake documentary about a national dog show and specifically about the kind of people who raise dogs for the show. Again, simple premise, but in the hands of cinema's greatest improv troupe, it's a gold mine. I've been trying to list out the characters in movies with the actors in parentheses in my reviews recently to standardize them a bit, and I'm going to continue that here. But, the cast for this film is huge and it's worth listing out damn near everyone from the start. So, here we go.
The film focuses in on five dogs, a Weimaraner, a Norwich Terrier, a Bloodhound, a Shih Tzu, and a Standard Poodle. The Weimaraner is owned by Meg Swan (Parker Posey) and Hamilton Swan (Michael Hitchcock), and they're as obsessed with J. Crew catalogs as they are their own dog. The Norwich Terrier is owned by Gerry Fleck (Eugene Levy) and Cookie Fleck (Catherine O'Hara), an unusual couple that's constantly confronted by an awkward past. The Bloodhound is owned by Harlan Pepper (Christopher Guest), an owner of a fish bait shop and a complete goddamn weirdo even by this movie's standards. The Shih Tzu is owned by Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins) and Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean), a flamboyant gay couple who despite their party laden past are arguably the most grounded and least insane dog owners on display here. Last but not least, the Standard Poodle is owned by Sherri Ann (Jennifer Coolidge) who trains the dog with her handler Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch). Sherri Ann is more or less Anna Nicole Smith if she owned a show dog and Christy is trying to keep Sherri from making a fool of herself.
I think that's the longest paragraph I've ever written, but I want anyone reading this to re-read that paragraph and pay attention to the names in parentheses. The reason I ask that is because every single actor listed there is absolutely killer in this film. All of these performers are damn near at the top of their game, with the performances ranging from great at the least and some of comedy's best at the most. If I had to pick one performance out of all of those to highlight, I'd focus on Christopher Guest (and the fact that he's practically a chameleon of an actor), but believe it or not there's someone even funnier than all of them: Fred Willard as Buck Laughlin.
Buck Laughlin is a commentator at the dog show that knows nothing about dogs, and Fred Willard is practically cinema's undisputed heavyweight champion of keeping a straight face no matter what's coming out of his mouth. He doesn't enter the film until the second half, but you won't forget when he shows up.
The supporting cast is huge, featuring the likes of Ed Balaban and Ed Begley Jr. among others, and they're all great too. Again, this is one of my favorite comedy films for a reason.
Which is where I hit a brick wall in writing a review for Best in Show. There's nothing worse than someone telling you a joke secondhand, so I'll keep most of the jokes out of the review. So, I'll just focus on my one criticism of the film, the one thing that holds it back (and why I prefer This is Spinal Tap).
It's a great mockumentary, but it falls more into The Office style of documentary than it does in trying to imitate a real one. This is Spinal Tap is an alarmingly realistic documentary in the way it's shot and edited whereas Best in Show just uses the mockumentary format as its venue in a less involved way. I'm definitely splitting hairs there, but when you're dealing with films this great, you have to get into nitty-gritty details like that.
Best in Show is a near perfect amalgamation of improv performance and the mockumentary format. It truly is one of the best comedy movies I've ever seen, one that grows on me every time I watch it. I know I'm setting expectations for this film in the stratosphere, but you can't help but fall in love with this movie's quiet sense of humor that occasionally explodes into chaos.