I don’t like watching things go round and round in circles. Whether that be race cars flying around a track, long-distance runners plodding along a closed course, or a ceiling fan, I just have no desire to see the repetition. Likewise, I’ve never had a large fondness for parades. Sitting or standing watching a bunch of stuff just go by has the entertainment equivalent of eating seaweed lightly dusted in sand.
Which in a roundabout way brings me to dog shows. At their best, dog shows are beauty pageants for canines, only they lack the inevitable moments when human beauty pageant contestants say something mind-numbingly stupid. Which I think we all can agree is at least good for a laugh.
Thankfully, not everyone has my attitude toward dog shows. In 2000, Christopher Guest saw that not only were dog shows a fascinating platform for humor, but a great opportunity to lovingly skewer eccentric pet owners in general. Guest directs and stars in “Best in Show,” a mockumentary about the 125th annual Mayflower Kennel Club’s dog show and its hilarious and colorful contestants. And by contestants, I mean the pet owners here, not the dogs themselves.
And what contestants they are. We are introduced to four different couples and one individual, Harlan Pepper (Guest), as they prepare to attend the dog show. Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) are an image- and product-obsessed couple of antisocial lawyers. Cookie and Gerry Fleck (Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy) are a suburban couple that sings songs about their terrier to entertain barbecue guests. Stefan Vanderhoof and Scott Donlan (Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins) are a couple of hairdressers who treat their Shih Tzus like their own children. Finally, Sherri Ann Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) is a wealthy gold-digger and owner of the reigning Mayflower champion “Rhapsody in White,” who is trained by Christy Cummings (the ever-amazing Jane Lynch). By comparison, the lone Harlan Pepper — a fish and tackle store owner from Pine Nut, Miss. — seems the most normal.
We see the couples in their own elements and then tumbled together at the Mayflower mixer. And each character just shines with awkward, sometimes subtle, humor.
The script is credited to both Guest and Levy, but most of the interaction is improvised by the creative and clever cast. Their performances and interactions are believable in an unbelievable sort of way.
Jane Lynch plants the seeds here for the character of Sue Sylvester from TV’s “Glee.” Coolidge exhorts self-deprecating humor from the oblivious facade of Sherri Ann Cabot. Levy does what he does best in portraying the geek you knew in high school all grown up. His strange pairing with O’Hara’s Cookie Fleck and the unveiling of her overly promiscuous past is a running joke throughout the film. McKean gracefully plays straight-man to Higgins’ flamboyant and inappropriate Scott. Posey’s Meg and Hitchcock’s Michael are the kind of couple who remember how they met by what kind of Starbucks beverage they were consuming, discussing the onset of lactose intolerance as if it’s an achievement.
There’s a big cast in this film, but no one character overshadows the others. There are even hilarious smaller performances by Larry Miller, Ed Begley Jr. and Fred Willard — to name just a few. Everyone is funny and everyone is a favorite.
I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times, and it never seems to grow old or stale. It’s not enough to make me interested in actual dog shows, but if there’s any truth to the craziness of the pet owners — as they are portrayed here — I’d love to be a fly on the wall for any local poodle pageant.
Best In Show (2000)Starring: Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara
Director: Christopher Guest
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rated PG-13 for language and sex-related material