|Best in Show (2000)
Starring: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer
Director: Christopher Guest
Spoofing documentaries is nowhere near as easy as it looks. If the audience gets the slightest inkling that the subjects are viewed with contempt, the jig is up. That is why Christopher Guest is so good at making "mockumentaries." He clearly loves all of his subjects, warts and all. And he should. Guest, after all, starred in the mother of all mockumentaries, "This Is Spinal Tap," which still stands as one of the funniest movies ever made. His first attempt at mockumentary as a director was the cult favorite "Waiting for Guffman," and while that one didn't have the belly laughs "Spinal Tap" did, it was filled with moments so real and so painful as to inspire a deep shame in the suffering of others. With "Best In Show," Guest has just upped the ante considerably. It's less painful (though far from painless) and much, much funnier.
The story centers around the Mayflower Kennel Club dog show, held every year in Philadelphia. The most prominent members of the ensemble cast are Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Guest regulars and Second City legends Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara) and their lucky little terrier Winky, who is the subject of many A Cappella tunes the Flecks have written and are more than happy to share. There is a running gag involving Cookie and her numerous amorous exploits prior to marrying sad sack Gerry, a man born with two left feet (no, really).
Then we have Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock), two fashion addicts who define themselves solely by their clothing labels, and their depressed dog (witnessed them having sex, hasn't recovered, so their doggie therapist thinks). Their 'meet cute' is priceless: their eyes met while standing in the windows of Starbucks stores across the street from each other.
Rounding out the subjects is easy-going southerner Harlan Pepper (Guest) and his bloodhound, and Stefan Vanderhoof ("Spinal Tap" alumnus Michael McKean) and his boy toy Scott Donlan (a very funny John Michael Higgins), who packs seven outfits for a weekend trip. Their pups are the most immaculately groomed Shih Tzus ever. Finally, Sheri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge, aka Stiffler's mom), who is as close to Anna Nicole Smith as it gets (she's married to a man older than God), is the proud sponsor of handler Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) and Rhapsody in White, probably the most perfect example imaginable of why people dislike poodles.
The audience gets to know these characters very well very quickly, and their journeys are far more interesting than the destination. But that's not to say the dog show itself isn't a hoot. It is, and that is solely because of commentator Buck Laughlin (Fred Willard, on his "A" game), a failed baseball play-by-play man now reduced to adding color -- and boy, does he add color -- to dog shows. Guest gives his players lots of room to move (most dialogue is improvised), and the reaction shots we get are clearly and hilariously genuine.
"Best In Show" is remarkable in that it takes an otherwise dull event and turns it into a circus of the absurd, from the participants to the alleged experts working behind the scenes. It may have taken more than 20 years, but Guest has finally found his true calling. Woe be the soul who dares to outdo him in the mockumentary genre from this point on.