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Best in Show

Starring Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Catherine O'Hara, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, Jim Piddick and Fred Willard
Screenplay by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy
Directed by Christopher Guest

IN SHORT: Funniest Dog-umentary ever made. [Rated PG-13 for language and sex-related material. 95 minutes]

As opposed to the funniest mock-umentary or rock-umentary, both of which the the director of this film had a hand in . . .

Every year, MSG Cable Network cablecasts the Westminster Dog Show out of Madison Square Garden in New York. If you've ever seen it, and are not a dog show aficionado, the teevee coverage seems to last 24/7 for at least a week. As you might guess, without embellishment, the idea of a movie set in the days leading up to The Big Show is painful -- and we prefer dogs to cats, btw. With embellishment, in this case the name/surname combo "Christopher Guest" is enough to get us to sit up and . . . well, not beg. It is enough to get us to break a long standing rule about not seeing comedies in a private critics-only screening. Poorly made or repetitive comedies (Austin Powers being the latter) die a horrible death in the icy cold silence of a private room. The only thing more horrible is the sound of critics, with years of conditioning in the ancient art of keeping their yaps shut, breaking open; their faces bursting with the sounds of laughter from petrified vocal chords. It started with the first scene of Best In Show, and it didn't stop until the final black out.

It's not the dogs that are best in show, of course. It's the grownups who lavish attention on them, if not on each other, that are the focus here. A whole range of competitors, of different economic classes and from different areas of the country sit, Spinal Tap-like, for impromptu interviews with the camera. Some characters verge on stereotype, but all of them have detailed backgrounds that make this flick more than a goof on maniacally obsessed pet owners.

Actually, manic is a pretty good description for yuppies Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock), though psychotic is probably closer to the fact. With clothes by J.Crew and L.L. Bean and coffee by Starbucks, their poor little pup, Beatrice, is suffering and inattentive, having been traumatized by . . . nah, that's the first gag of the flick. Shortly after we meet the Swans we are introduced to an Anna Nicole Smith knock off named Sherri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) and her 110-year old (sic) Daddy Warbucks, Leslie (Patrick Cranshaw). Being fabulously wealthy, they've hired professional "handler" Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) to bring home the Best In Show cup for the third year running, for their standard poodle "Rhapsody in White". Coming up from Florida are Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara) and Winky, their Norwich Terrier. Cookie has known, apparently, just about every male on the Eastern Seaboard and Gerry is a wee bit insecure about that. Pine Nut, North Carolina yields fishing shop owner Harlan Pepper (Christopher Guest), with an accent thicker than chaw spit. Our final couple comes from New York. The middle aged hair salon owner Stefan Venderhoof (Michael McKean) and his more than flamboyant significant other, Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins).

The collective destination for all the dog owners is the Mayflower Dog Show in Philadelphia, Mayflower being the famous ship piloted by Columbus, which landed at Philly a long time ago. . . .

Two. Three. Four [rimshot]. Perfectly encapsulating every annoying idiot of a blow-dry anchorman is Fred Willard as Buck Laughlin, who is broadcasting the competition over local television. His harried Brit broadcast partner Trevor Beckwith (Jim Piddock) maintains the proverbial stiff upper as Willard demonstrates why Jay Leno calls him the Funniest Man in America. Funny, in this case, means extraordinarily annoying and ignorant, but that's what we expect of local blow dries, right?

Funniest couple honors would go to Canadians Levy and O'Hara, whose bits as Gerry and Cookie are filled to the brim with physical and character humor. Levy's performance, alone, is worth the ticket.

As for Guest's humor, based on past experience we've seen a definite split with no grey areas -- if you've liked work such as Waiting for Guffman or This Is Spinal Tap, you'll probably have no qualms about sitting through a movie about a dog show. We went back with a "real" audience and the giggling and laughter were as consistent as the painful yelps emanating from the petrified vocal chords of the critics in the private screening. If you didn't care for Guffman or Tap, you'll probably miss the fun of Best In Show

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Best in Show, he would have paid...


And having just learned that the director is also the Fifth Baron Haden-Guest of Saling, we can't wait to meet his wife and call her Lady Jamie (Lee Curtis)

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