A high school teacher's personal life becomes complicated as he works with students during the school elections, particularly with an obsessive overachiever determined to become student body president.
The owners (and handlers) of five show dogs head for the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. A film crew interviews them as they prepare for the trip, arrive at Philly's Taft Hotel, and compete. From Florida come the Flecks: she keeps running into old lovers. A wordless ancient in a wheelchair and his buxom trophy wife who may have a thing for the dog's handler own the two-time defending best in show, a poodle. From the piney woods of N.C. comes a fella who wants to be a ventriloquist. High-strung DINKs feud loudly in front of their Weimaraner. Two outré gay men from Tribeca round out the profiled owners. The dog show brings out the essence of the humans. Who will be best in show? Written by
Dog people, amusing enough in real life, are much more so in Christoher Guest's master mockumentary.
Best in Show (2000) Directed by Christopher Guest. Written by Guest and Eugene Levy. Starring Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Levy, Catherine O'Hara, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Guest and Fred Willard. Running Time: 90 minutes Rated PG-13
Dog people, and the dogs that own them, are often amusing in real life. But in the hands of master mock documentarist Christopher Guest, the amusement is marvelously magnified. (Guest practically invented the "mockumentary" with his 1984 rock band send-up, "This is Spinal Tap.")
In the days leading up to the Mayfair Kennel Club Dog Show, several sets of contestants make their way to Philadelphia to realize a dream of being "Best in Show." There's a pair of New York yuppies (Posey and Hitchcock) who are even higher strung than their willful weimaraner. A gay couple (Higgins and McKean) shows up to show off their shih tzu. A Florida husband and wife (Levy and O'Hara) make the trip with their terrier, discovering along the way that every man they meet is one of her former lovers. And finally, springing fully-grown from a country music song, lonely guy Harlan Pepper (Guest) arrives from North Carolina in a pickup truck with his droop-faced bloodhound. Once at the show, the odd assortment of owners conduct their canines toward a "best in show" showdown, where brilliantly inept color commentary is provided by Buck Laughlin (Willard).
Even though fairly well known actors play the primary roles, Guest achieves a documentary feel, mainly because much of the dialogue seems improvised. As writer-director, he deserves credit, either for writing sharp dialogue, or for directing in a way that inspires creativity in his actors.
Some of the best lines come from Posey and Hitchcock, the yuppie couple who met when their eyes locked as they sipped coffee at separate but close-by Starbucks, and whose pooch becomes paranoid whenever they get intimate in its presence. The other cast members ably deliver lines that define their quirky characters. Especially good is O'Hara as a woman with a past who is nonetheless devoted to spouse Levy, who literally has two left feet. Even the background extras, probably real-life dog handlers, are fascinating to watch, and seem to inhabit their own documentaries, waiting for their own close-ups.
The last third of the film brings the entire cast together for the "Best in Show" competition. This is where Willard, who seems to have wandered in from a slow day at the XFL, delivers his wildly comic commentary, which amazes and befuddles his more serious partner. (For a while, there was actually some Oscar buzz for Willard's performance here.) Though the film pokes fun at the dog show circuit, it also reveals a fondness for the people involved. It may not inspire you to become a dog show person, but it just may have you looking in the classifieds to see when the next real-life show is coming to your town.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
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