Some dogs and their owners were born for each other. Take, for example, Meg and Hamilton Swan, played with frightening accuracy by Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock in Best in Show. The Swans share an addiction for J. Crew and their precious pooch, the subject of Meg's near-breakdown when the dog's squeaky-toy vanishes. Best in Show is another satire featuring the cast and crew behind that hilarious pageant send-up, Waiting for Guffman. It revolves around a few random dog lovers and the Mecca of their lives: the annual Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia.
In the vein of Guffman, one of the wittiest and funniest movies of the '90s, Best in Show takes time for the viewer to fully investigate the eccentricity of its characters and discover how important their dogs are to them. Just to win a competition and take home a blue ribbon, these men and women have gone borderline insane with all their primping, propering, and preparing of pets for the big show. And you know the most ironic part of all? These people and a dozen more who occupy Best in Show's largely improvised script resemble individuals we know, and that's what makes Christopher Guest's follow-up to Guffman such a bitingly funny experience.
There are hundreds of participants in the Mayflower Dog Show, but this laugh-a-minute mockumentary focuses on a select few in particular. Harlan Pepper (Guest), a North Carolina hunter, competes with his sad-looking bloodhound; promiscuous Cookie Fleck (Catherine O'Hara) and husband Gerry (Eugene Levy), who literally has two left feet (!) drag their cute terrier up from Florida; homosexual Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean) and his flamboyant partner (John Michael Higgins) team up with their precious Shih Tzus; the yuppie Swans bring their emotionally traumatized mutt; and Sherri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge), resembling Anna Nicole Smith with her marriage to an aging geezer, brings along her prize-winning poodle and its handler (Jane Lynch), a lesbian Sherri is attracted to.
As these personalities make their presence known on the showroom floor, a colorful commentator (Fred Willard) presides over the ceremony with the attention span of a carrot and doesn't really seem to care if he ruffles anyone's feathers in the process. Willard’s sidesplitting character seems reasonably bored with watching the dogs trotted out before a live audience time after time. At one point, he suggests a Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe would increase the bloodhound's chances of winning. I don't think Willard's commentator is a man who has no idea what he's talking about. Instead, I see him as someone who's tired and wants to liven up the show. Early on, he figures out how tiresome and unnecessary dog shows are, therefore making him the funniest and smartest member of the cast, skewering the ceremonies, rattling off perfect deadpan dialogue, and delivering laugh-inducing moments of refined sarcasm.
But Willard, who should have received no less than an Oscar nomination for this film, is just one actor among the funniest ensemble cast of 2001. All of the principal players, many appearing previously in Guffman, have side stories relating to an obsession with their dogs. Cast members pull off their roles with brilliance and skill by combining a subtle approach to humor with a realism about their characters – which makes them all the more funny and believable. Posey, Levy, Willard...basically, the entire cast is super. I’m very pleased the satire these actors generate comes across with no mean-spirited streak – because that might have tainted its sharp humor.
Although Best in Show contains more belly laughs and chuckles than Waiting for Guffman, it does lack that film's at-home quality and widespread appeal. Somehow I feel Guest’s latest movie will appeal most to cat lovers and people who like dogs but think ceremonies built around them are a bit stupid. Count me among the latter group. I’m convinced Best in Show is the perfect cinematic experience to prove our point. (Complete review at http://www.ajhakari.com )
My rating: *** 1/2 (out of ****)
Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for language and sex-related material.