Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BEST IN SHOW...still the Best!

Tonight we are watching director Christopher Guest's classic comedy BEST IN SHOW, co-written by Guest and Eugene Levy, both of whom have key roles in their film. We have watched this movie many times, often to alleviate boredom or even depression, but now it's summer and nothing is on the telly or here from Netflix. Guest and his usual troupe of parody actors made their biggest mark with WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, a witty look at a small town drama group's effort to mount a major production. Needless to say, everything goes awry, and the laughs abound. Guest helped spur the documentary, straight to the camera style that is so popular in television today (THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK, MODERN FAMILY).

BEST IN SHOW uses this technique to perfection. The major characters and their dogs are headed to Philadelphia for the annual Mayflower Dog Kennel Show. Any similarity to the Westminster show is purely intentional. As they prepare for the show, the characters get into ridiculous situations that expose typical American foibles that are not exclusive to dog owners.
Guest plays Harlan Pepper, an amateur ventriloquist whose dog is a bloodhound. Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy are a childless couple devoted to their Norwich Terrier. Their main problem is her past lovers who seem to show up at all the wrong times. Then there are Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock as J. Crew preppies who met at Starbucks, actually one shop facing the other in a big city. Their neurotic behavior is seen in their nervous Weimaraner who sees a dog psychiatrist. Jennifer Coolidge is the buxom young blonde wife of an doddering octogenerian (think of Anna Nicole Smith) who has hired Jane Lynch as her trainer for their white poodle. Lynch here is a prototype for her role on GLEE, domineering, emasculating, even trying to psyche out the other contending trainers. Rounding out the owners are Scott Donlan and Michael McKean, the gay owners of Shih Tzu. For 2000, they are the best and least of stereotypes; the younger is flashy, the older is more reserved. They have some of the wittiest lines in the film. And to top it off, there is Fred Willard as the co-host of the show, a man who has no clue about sports or anything else. His hilarious non sequiturs are fine on their own but even better as we watched the restrained pain of his co-host, a knowledgeable Brit.

Too often parody can be cruel but not here. Though the characters are outrageous at times, they display humanity, with the exception of the preppy couple. BEST IN SHOW is one of the great comedies. I would rank it with classics like SOME LIKE IT HOT and TOOTSIE. And compared to the slovenly slacker gross-outs on the screen today, Christopher Guest's film is a masterpiece.

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