The Quarantine Stream: Christopher Guest's 'Best in Show' Is Full of Good Dogs and Even Greater Gags
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Best in Show
Where You Can Stream It: Hulu
The Pitch: The tension is palpable, the excitement is mounting, and the heady scent of competition is in the air as hundreds of eager contestants from across America prepare to take part in what is undoubtedly one of the greatest events of their lives – the Mayflower Dog Show. The canine contestants and their owners are as wondrously diverse as the great country that has bred them.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Christopher Guest has been playing in the fake documentary format since the 1980s. Not only did he write and star in the rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (where he’s responsible for the famous scene where the amps go up to 11), but he brought some of the same comedic sensibilities to Synchronized Swimmers, one of the most famous pre-recorded Saturday Night Live sketches of all time. But for my money, Christopher Guest’s biggest laughs and finest characters come from Best in Show, a mockumentary that follows a variety of eclectic dog owners who are preparing to participate in the Mayflower Dog Show. Thanks to an outstanding ensemble cast and a penchant for improvisation, this movie is pure comedy gold, and there are some good dogs for you to enjoy too.
Christopher Guest co-stars in Best in Show as fishing goods store owner Harland Pepper alongside a wonderful bloodhound named Hubert, but the rest of the ensemble is comprised of odd and hilarious couples. Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy play Cookie and Gerry Fleck, a middle-class couple from Florida who have a Norwich Terrier named Winky, and they can’t seem to avoid the many former lovers Cookie has had over the years. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock play the high-strung L.L. Bean lovers Meg and Hamilton Swan with a Weimaraner named Beatrice, who they believe to be neurotic. John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean are the flamboyant couple Scott Donlan and Stefan Vanderhoof with a Shih Tzu named Miss Agnes. And Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch play buxom trophy wife Sherri Ann and dog trainer Christy Cummings, who have plenty of tension between them as they care for poodle, Rhapsody in White (or Butch).
The movie follows all of these owners and their dogs as they make their way to the Mayflower Dog Show, each encountering various obstacles and relationship squabbles along the way. What makes the movie one of the comedy greats is that it never feels like there are manufactured jokes. All of the funniest bits seem to come about naturally, just as they would if this were a real documentary. It’s a raucously hilarious comedy without being completely over the top, and it’s mostly because each member of the ensemble cast has extensive training in improvisational comedy and knows how to come up with gags that ring true to the character without going for the easy laugh. Everything comes across as authentic, and every single scene develops these eccentric characters and their dynamic, right up until they all face each other in competition.
Best in Show is not just a great mockumentary, but it’s one of the greatest comedies ever made. Though the mockumentary format was already alive and well by the time it came along in 2000, it feels perfected in this movie, and I think even though Christopher Guest would expand his ensemble casts in later movies, this one is still the best…in show. (I’m sorry).
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