Best in Show
"Best in Show," Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy's new collaboration -- a mock documentary about Philadelphia's supposed Mayflower Dog Show, is a much more consistent, and consistently funny, film than their last one, the small-town satire "Waiting for Guffman." This time they've taken on a larger target, used a larger palette of characters and action, and built the comedy properly from beginning to end.
The film follows a half-dozen show-dog owners as they make their way to Philadelphia for the show, and then carries them through to the final judging. There's Harlan Pepper, of Pine Nut, N.C. (Guest), with his old van, his purebred bloodhound and his ventriloquist's dummy. When Harlan takes a break on his trip up to Philadelphia he sits in the van practicing his ventriloquism and revealing more about himself to his dummy than he is quite aware of. There are Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock), whose very neurotic weimaraner is a perfect reflection of them and their marriage; we meet them first when they're all at the psychiatrist because the dog has seen them having sex and is upset with his position in the family. There are Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Levy and Catherine O'Hara) and their Norwich terrier. Gerry has, literally, two left feet, which makes him the perfect foil for Cookie, since everywhere they go, on their trip north from Florida, they run into various old sex partners of Cookie's who are only too happy to recall every detail of the encounters. Then there's the gay couple Stefan and Scott and their Shih Tsu, who carry their own room decor with them and tack it up on the wall of their room at the Dog Show headquarters hotel. And there's the soon-to-be lesbian couple who find each other in the course of the competition.
It's a long list, but Guest and Levy handle all the crosscutting just fine, and Guest's direction is much more skillful here than it was in "Guffman," where he tended to set his camera up in front of his actors and let them wander through their various bits, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. This time Guest uses his camera more effectively, punching up comic moments and lines with a better camera placement. We in the audience aren't fighting to get the jokes and respond to them, as we were in "Guffman."
After everyone's gotten to the show, Guest and Levy give us one more partnership -- the show commentators. They are the knowledgeable Englishman Trevor Beckwith (Jim Piddock) and the unbelievably boorish American Buck Laughlin (Fred Willard), who is apparently attending his very first dog show and is happy to voice what others might not even dare to think.
The film is light as a feather, but by not pushing things too hard, and finding small pieces of unexpected wit where others might have trampled them to death, Guest has made an absolutely charming piece that will hold up even on repeated viewings. With comedy you can't ask for more than that.