Once a year, the American doggie elite congregates in Philadelphia for the Mayflower Dog Show – travelling by air, caravan, BMW and station wagon – projecting their dreams and hopes onto the family pet. Christopher Guest’s mockumentary, Best in Show digs down deep into the psyches of the owners and the nitty-gritty politics of show dogs. Or does it?
Writer/director Christopher Guest hits the pay dirt he missed with Waiting for Guffman, which drew too heavily on This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner’s 1984 classic, in which he co-starred with Michael McKean. Best in Show is satire at it’s best, sharply funny right from the opening scene where we meet married dog owners, yuppies Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) in pet therapy, explaining to the psychologist how they have traumatised their Weimaraner – who walked in on them having sex – in a position, the ‘congress of the cow’, they learned from the Kama Sutra. This is just the beginning of the psychological torment these two wreak on their poor pooch.
Then there’s musical Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) and their little terrier. They’re madly in love – but Cookie is still trying to live down her past and the hundreds of men she knew before finding Gerry. If only they would stop turning up wherever they go.
Gay New Yorkers Scott and Stefan (John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean) are certain their Shih Tzu, Agnes, will win top honours. Guest plays Harlan Pepper, a dull North Carolina fly-fisherman cum ventriloquist showing his lovable bloodhound, Hubert.
Lastly, there’s gold-digger Sherri Ann Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) who can “not talk” with her eighty year-old husband all day long. Her professional dog handler (Jane Lynch) is going for a third win with Sherri’s prize poodle, Rhapsody in White.
Guest’s script, co-written with Eugene Levy leaves room for this remarkable cast to flex their improvisational muscles – every performance is believable and life-like – in no time you’ll be rooting for your favourite canine-human team.
Credit also goes to technical advisor and dog consultant Earlene Luke, who staged what seems to be a genuine dog-show. She co-presents with the clueless Fred Willard who makes the sort of dirty jokes one might expect from an eight year old throughout the competition. “Shih Tzu? What kind of a name is a Shih Tzu?”
A laugh out loud flick – 96 minutes of pure belly laughs. And watching it on DVD is twice as nice because Guest has included so many alternate takes, it’s like an alternate version.