best in show


Directed by Christopher Guest

Written by Eugene Levy and Christopher Guest

There seem to be two types of filmgoers: those who love the comedies of Christopher Guest and think he's an insightful comic genius, and those people who really don't. There is no middle ground here. However, there is just no denying that starting with the glorious rock madness of This Is Spinal Tap, Guest has first invented and then re-invented the mockumentary genre many times over.

This is not my favourite of Guest's films, that prize goes to the hilarious A Mighty Wind, but I still guffawed my way through this gem in a way that was uncomfortable for my fellow theatre-goers. I don't think all of them were feeling the love like I was. I really get Guest's sense of the ridiculous, and I love dogs, so this film felt tailor-made for me.

Best in Show revolves around the world of show dogs and their owners, and more specifically about the preparation for the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, a fictional contest presumably modelled on the real-life, utterly pretentious Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show held at Madison Square Garden. The film follows, in the faux-documentary style that has become almost synonymous with Guest's films, the trials and traumas of four sets of obsessive dog owners and their overly-pampered pooches.

Like other directors such as Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Guest seems to make his films for the pure delight of getting together with all his friends and having a laugh. The regulars are all here - Christopher Guest himself, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, John Micheal Higgins and Michael Hitchcock. They're joined here by Jennifer Coolidge who is quickly becoming one of the more dependable funny-women in Hollywood (think Stifler's Mom from American Pie). Together these crazy loons become the scariest bunch of dog-lovers ever assembled on film.

Some satires find it hard to sustain their momentum for a full ninety minutes because essentially they're trying to get as much mileage out of one joke as humanly possible. Here the characters never get old, especially Parker Posey's high-strung dramatics when she can't seem to get anyone to understand that both she and her dog are sensitive souls. Her attempt to get a dog psychiatrist to sort out the Oedipal mess of her Weimeraner having seen her and her husband doing it doggy style has to be seen to be believed. I also loved Eugene Levy's Gerry Fleck, the man with literally two left feet, and the campy gay guys whose competitive bitchiness hits exactly the right mark.

In terms of lesbian content, that comes in the form of dog trainer Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) who works with millionairess Sherri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) to train her five-time champion poodle (how's THAT for a euphemism?) Sherri is married to a geriatic fellow and in one of her best lines proudly claims "we could not talk forever and still find things to not talk about".

Lynch relishes her domineering role, sweeping Sherri off her feet and creating their new partnership both in and out of the bedroom, as together they primp and preen the insufferable poodle towards another best in show title, but will they be outfoxed in the end by an underdog? Christy Cummings is not unlike Lynch's lawyer Joyce Wischnia on The L Word in many respects - completely overconfident in that hysterically inappropriate way.

Much of the dialogue seems improvised, particularly when the various couples squabble with each other over trivialities, and you get the feeling that a lot was left on the cutting room floor as the actors tested what approaches did and didn't work. A lot of the success of this approach depends on Guest's inate ability to know when to linger over a moment just that little bit longer to squeeze all the funny out of it. I often feel a tad exhausted at the end of one of his films, trying to keep up with the never-ending gags and asides. You miss a lot on the first pass and almost all his films reward repeat viewing.

Most of all, Guest seems to have a genuine affection for all his characters and his cast, and allows them all a moment to really shine. None of them step on each other's toes, they all have their part to play and never upstage anyone else. The result is balanced, rich, hilarious and is made all the more funny because lesbians and gay men get to laugh at themselves right along with all the straight people, and it's no big deal.

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Last updated: 4 April 2008