Best in Show - 20th June 2011

12 years after Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean first coined the phrase 'Mockumentary' in the now legendarily funny "This is Spinal Tap", the aforementioned Mr.Chris Guest re-intvented the wheel and re-vitalised the formula with a series of similar styled films, all, mostly, starring the same regular group of actors.
Apart from an outline by Guest and SCTV alum and 80s comedic legend, Eugene Levy, the dialogue was improvised mostly in the form of talking heads interspersed with sketches and scenes, some which pushed the story forward and others merely to tell jokes.

Where Tap focussed on a big, famous and bombastic band on the downturn of their luck, the following four films would deal more with fringe groups of smaller minded people, in all but Best in Show, trying to create something artistic but on a much smaller or independent scale. Like Tap though, they all seemingly have delusions of grandeur.

In Best in Show, the second of the four films Guest and company have, so far, made together, the action centres around several couples bringing their prized pooch to compete in the national finals at the Mayflower dog tournament. You get the crazy, wound tight, new age yuppies, the seemingly happy go-lucky, middle aged, mild mannered, married couple where the wife has more than a few skeletons in her cupboard, the fairly flamboyant gay couple, the idiotic, blonde trophy wife to a seemingly ancient man with money and her go-getting, lesbian trainer and finally Guest himself, barely recognisable as always,  as a soft spoken, mild southern gentleman who seemingly lives life by three things: fishing, naming nuts and his bloodhound dog.

Unlike Tap before it and a Mighty Wind that would follow, Best in Show, while it has it's over the top moments and it's silly bits, seems a lot more of a genuine subtle character study and at times, especially with the arguing couple and also with the wife of many lovers, an unusually dark piece full of pathos and awkward silences.
Not a lot of humour is derived from the idea of 'showing the dogs', if the point of a zombie film is that it's really the human's that are the monsters then it's the point of Best in Show that it's us humans who are crazy, stupid or both, with the dogs treated as serious and almost lazily confused by the whole thing.

The performances in this are, across the board, strong, nuanced, perfectly realised and in their attention to detail, utterly hilarious. Guest, Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock especially disappear in their roles and, actually, when you think of Guest in Tap, Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, Waiting for Guffman, this and others, he rivals Peter Sellers in his ability to seemingly become an entirely new, intricate and, often, totally unrecognisable character. While I know he has reached something of a god status amongst those in the know, it is criminal that we live in a society that praises actors who routinely and, very often, badly play themselves over and over again when amongst them, working away, with little fanfare, there is an incredible and talented chameleon like Christopher Guest.

Best in Show is not the funniest film of this type, when it comes to actual, obvious, laugh out loud jokes and of course nothing rivals the quote rate of Tap but there are some classic scenes in this, some lovely running jokes and as we reach the climax at the actual dog show we are treated to, the always fantastic and funny, Fred Willard as a spectacularly clueless announcer.

Nothing is made of the direction but I suppose as you don't notice it and it feels authentic throughout then it's a job well done. Guest certainly knows how to get the best out of these people and capture all that he needs.

Best in Show is probably the bravest, or at least most inventive of the four Guest/Levy collaborations because all his other topics: Small town amateur dramatics, music and movie making are easy targets to some extent, especially for people who are actors/musicians already, and while a dog show and dog trainers may initially feel like an easy target, like absurd beauty pageants or what have you, the way they have crafted the film, the stereotypes may not be what you expect and it actually surprises, also the dogs are not played for laughs, the humans are.

If you only see one post-Tap Guest movie then make it a Mighty Wind because it's just funnier in gag rate but if you see a second one or are in the mood for a slower, more nuanced character piece pick Best in Show. You'll see a new thing each time you go back and watch it, so why not go do that now!

7 out of 10 tasty dog biscuits
Points from the Wife - 7 out of 10

The Dilemma - 23rd June 2011

Tango & Cash - 12th June 2011