Best in Show turns us humor to 11
By Peter Heidenreich
By Peter Heidenreich
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Christopher Guest, director
Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy, writers
Runtime: 90 minutes; Rated: PG -13
Christopher Guest is creating a new genre. In this day and age of reality television and an ever-growing cinematic tendency toward realism, it seems no wonder that a new type of film, the mockumentary, is becoming more and more popular. Perhaps begun with the Woody Allen film Zelig, the mockumentary takes comical farce and treats it with all the seriousness of a true documentary. With deadpan delivery and razor-sharp wit, Best in Show turns the very real world of dog shows and canine breeding on its tail.
As in his directorial debut, Waiting for Guffman, Guest assembles a superb cast of improvisationally-skilled actors and lets them run with their loosely-sketched characters. The result is a mixed bag of jokes that seems as fresh for the actors as for the audience. However, through clever editing and a great sense of narrative composition, Guest weaves all their stories into a coherent and never-tedious plot.
There is no single main character in Best in Show, but rather each individual adds his or her unique flavor to the overall potpourri of the film. Just to mention a few: there is the neurotic yuppie couple; the flamboyantly gay couple; a good-natured but naïve Southerner (played by Guest himself); and most notably, Fred Willards inept announcer whose hilarious comments during a dog show are worth the rental price alone.
All of them are brought together to the Mayflower Dog Show to strut their pooches. The viewer is treated to everyones backstory through a combination of first-person interviews and third-person cinema vérité. Then, once they have all reached the Mayflower, everyone is thrown together for the ridiculously
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tense and competitive show.
What seems most amazing about Best in Show is that it never gets old. Every joke is fresh and original, and the 90-minute runtime is neither too short nor too long to get across all the characters stories without becoming dull or resorting to inane repetition.
Also, a key to Guests style is improvisation. Every character is obviously fleshed out on paper before shooting begins, but almost every scene has a frenzied energy because much of the actual dialogue is produced for the first time by the actors. This could be a recipe for disaster if given the wrong actors, but everyone gives a performance that exhibits a professional assurance with the improvisational style. Catherine OHara and Eugene Levy, for example, were veterans of SCTV which featured a treasure trove of improv actors out of Chicagos famous Second City theater.
Best in Show is an extremely funny movie. Though not as good as the immortal This is Spinal Tap, which featured Guest playing Nigel Tufnel as well as co-writing the script, Guests newest film shows a marked improvement from Waiting for Guffman. Unlike Guffman, the jokes in Best in Show are funny in and of themselves, and not funny by nature of just a ridiculous story. Clever and unique, Best in Show deserves its bone.