In the cutthroat world of competitive dog shows - and cat shows, and maybe other animal shows too - "Best in Show" is the most coveted title of all.
The competition generally begins with dogs being compared with others in their breed - all the jack russell terriers, for example, being paraded around the ring and lifted up onto a table to be poked, prodded, and scrutinized by the judge(s), after which one lucky canine is declared Best of Breed. Then the winners in their breed are judged against others in their group, which in the prestigious Westminster Dog Show, are working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, sporting, hound, and herding. (Curious how your Fido fits in? See dog breed categories or www.westminsterkennelclub.org.) Finally, the group winners take to the ring for the final time, and the best overall dog for the show is chosen. Being chosen "Best in Show" (or "Best of Show") is the pinnacle of dog show achievement, and the winner of the Westminster Dog Show "Best in Show" is one celebrated doggy indeed.
It is this world of dog competition that Christopher Guest pokes gentle fun at in the comedy "Best in Show", one of a series of mockumentaries including "This is Spinal Tap", "Waiting for Guffman", and "A Mighty Wind" written by Guest with many of the same actors. This film, directed by Guest and co-written by Eugene Levy (though the dialogue is mostly improvised) follows a group of hopefuls as they head to Philadelphia for the prestigious Mayflower Dog Show, faithful furry companions in tow. There's drawling Harlan Pepper (Guest) and his delightfully droopy bloodhound Hubert; cross-eyed and buck-toothed Gerry Fleck (Levy) and his previously promiscuous wife Cookie (played with wacky brilliance by Catherine O'Hara), accompanied by their norwich terrier Winkie; the yuppie lawyers Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) and their highstrung weimaraner, Beatrice; the prancing gay couple Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean) and Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins) with their shih tzu Miss Agnes; and collagen-lipped trophy wife Sherri Ann Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) with her butch trainer friend Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) and Sherri Ann's standard poodle Rhapsody in White. Add to this ensemble cast Bob Balaban as Dr. Theodore W. Millbank III, president of the Mayflower Kennel Club, Ed Begley Jr. as the hotel manager where the contestants stay, and a few others, and you have a seasoned group whose improvised dialogue takes a minimalist script and turns it into a little piece that surprises and delights.
The story unfolds with gentle humour to the moment when one of the prized pooches takes the coveted blue ribbon - I won't tell you which one, you'll have to watch it yourself - and then beyond, to revisit the characters six months later. And all the while you laugh at the charming and believeable foibles of this kooky crew. But I think the thing I like best about this movie is that it manages to portray clearly stereotypical characters with sympathy and kindness, instead of the meanness and mockery that characterizes so much comedy on television and on the big screen today. Highly recommended.
Visit the movies official website, bestinshowonline.warnerbros.com, for some great footage you won't see in the film.