Best in Show

Best in Show. Castle Rock Entertainment 2000.
Best in Show. Castle Rock Entertainment 2000.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve probably been aware of this movie since shortly after it came out. I remember for years seeing it on the shelf at the library, picking it up, and putting it down again. It always looked like something I should be interested in, but it never grabbed me. It’s about a dog show. It’s a mockumentary. It’s by Christopher Guest. And none of that ever really put it over the edge for me, until now.

For an improvisational mockumentary with a huge cast, the only thing I know to expect is that I can’t predict anything.

After watching the movie:

Five sets of owners prepare their dogs for the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Neurotic yuppies Meg and Hamilton Swan are trying to be the best new age pet parents for Beatrice that they can, but it only causes her problems. Cookie Fleck does all the work with Winky, Gerry fully supports her but just tries to keep it all paid for. Scott Donlan and his partner Stefan Vanderhoof love each other and their dog Miss Agnes, and are friendly to most of their competition. Sherri Ann Cabot insists she didn’t marry the ancient and loaded Leslie Ward Cabot for his money, but there’s more of a spark between her and the hired trainer Christy. Harlan Pepper is a blue collar fishing goods store owner who breeds bloodhounds and practices ventriloquy.

Sometimes when I’m watching a movie, I follow the plot but the dialogue floats over me. The problem with letting that happen with a movie like this is that the dialogue is the point. It’s a mockumentary, so there’s even less narrative than in a real doc. There’s a lot of funny parts, but not everything works, and nothing’s much connected to anything else except that they all hang on a few throughlines, so little sticks.

So two out of five groups include same-sex couples. They’re jokes and stereotypes, but sympathetic, story-carrying jokes, like the geeks on The Big Bang Theory. Which is pretty par for the course in early 2000s media. And they’re mostly just as messed up as everyone else, which is better representation than it may seem. It’s not real life, but no comedy is real life.

I also notice that of the two credited writers, Guest and Levy, Guest’s character is the only one who’s alone, and Levy’s character’s wife is more of an extension of his character than one in her own right. Those are the characters they wanted for themselves. And they are the funniest individuals, but that moves them farther from plot and into pure comedy, and there comes a point where pure comedy would be better served by not having to bother with a story. I will say both of their gimmicks are fantastic left-field details that run on the unexpected. Both of them feel like improvised bits that were committed to so hard the required props spontaneously came into existence with a soft “yes-and“.

I came into this movie in the wrong frame of mind. I should have watched it like standup, because it falls apart on the basis of plot alone. The real draw is the dialogue and performance, and I wasn’t properly prepared for that, so I didn’t get the full effect. Movies that are different need different headspaces.

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