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
I'll admit that I've never seen "Waiting for Guffman", 1997's critically acclaimed comedy mockumentary about a small town thats that stages a pageant. When the advertising for Best in Show had the tagline "From the Team That Brought You Waiting for Guffman", a fair number of critics out there implied in their reviews that only people that are familiar with the film or its filmmakers and cast would have a good time seeing this film. For shame, critics, for shame times two! Any critic that implies something like that with any film probably doesn't want to share the film's wealth with the rest of the world, but this is one film that I hope people will experience, now that its video/dvd. "Best in Show" is, without a doubt, the best comedy of 2000.
The film begins with a mockumentary style, introducing the main competitors (not to mention screwballs) of the annual Mayflower "Best In Show" competition, where dogs of all breeds come to compete to see who is the top dog. We have the loveable and gullable Harry Pepper (Guest) with his bloodhound, the simple Gerry & Cookie Fleck (Levy & O'Hara) with their terriors, nut-case yuppies Hamilton & Meg Swan (Hitchcock & Posey), the gay dog groomers Scott Dolan & Stefan Vanderhoof (Higgins & McKean), and the airheaded millionare Sheri Ann Ward Cabot (Coolidge) along with her trainer Christy Cummings (Lynch). They all have their minds on one simple object: The Blue Ribbon, which will be awarded to the best dog. And...do I have to tell you the rest?
Director/writer/star Guest's idea of humor is one that assures me that there are comedies out there that are worth laughing at, and that the idiocy of films like "American Pie" or other pointless "teenage" flicks won't take over the world after all. His idea is simple: make your comedy not just funny, but SMART funny. But instead of following in the brilliant footsteps of films like "Zero Effect" and "High Fidelity", he used a rather unusual approach (and as I understand, he also used this approach for "Guffman"). Whether you notice or not, a very large part of the film is improvisation. In other words, what the actors say and do were probably not written in the script, maybe even not even dreamed of by Guest and co-writer/star Levy. But with a gentle hand from Guest, he and the actors pulled off a hilarious theatrical feat that probably would have flopped if handled by other, less adept actors. Now that's smart!
The cast is, of course, what makes improv work the most. All of them are a (comedic) marvel to behold, especially Guest as Pepper. But the real standout has to be Fred Williard as Buck Laughlin, the clueless announcer at the competition who can spin out the most outrageously funny stories and comments that no announcer would even dream of...that is, if the announcer was trying to be funny. Williard can go from talking about the dog to suddenly going on and on about how much he can bench press. There's even a part were he gives out an idea for a new marketing strategy: have sexy women pose in tight shirts and shorts with the dogs and imply something like "have a doggie-style of a time". Its priceless, as is his performance.
I hope that people engage in this 90-minute "dogumentary". The film deserves so much recognition. It did get nominated for Best Picture-Comedy at the Golden Globes, but didn't win. I can't see why. I mean, in the comedy department, it is best in show.
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