Best in Show Reviews
The simple premise behind this film is a dog show (in America of course), a dog show much like the famous British dog show Crufts. In fact the show in this movie is actually, supposedly, based upon a real dog show that takes place in New York each year, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. We the viewer follow the day to day lives of a set of dog owners and their preparation for the show, the ordeals during the show, and the eventual full outcome. The film is naturally in a documentary style with hand held cameras and many interviews on the fly as the adventures of each dog team is closely watched every bit of the way.
Its of no surprise of course that the dog teams are a varied larger than life bunch of people for maximum comedic effect. You have the flamboyant gay couple portrayed by Guest movie regular Michael McKean and John Higgins. McKean being the older, wiser, more conservatively dressed gent of the duo, whilst Higgins is the younger, fitter, spiritual, better looking toyboy of the couple who dresses flamboyantly. The pair own a small fluffy Shih Tzu which I guess you could say compliments their lifestyle? or is that too stereotypical to say? surely that was the idea though? Anyway, next up is Guest himself playing a small town hick type with a bloodhound. Other regular Guest movie team players Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara play a married couple, Levy of course being the nerdy half the couple, whilst O'Hara is, or was, a bit of a slut. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock play an executive yuppie-esque husband and wife couple that have major anger/lifestyle issues, Parker Posey's character is highly neurotic causing virtually all of the panic and grief. And finally Jennifer Coolidge plays a big dumb blonde (unsurprisingly) who is a trophy wife for some very old dude, but at the same time she is actually having an affair with their dog trainer, played by Jane Lynch.
We spend small amounts of time with each dog owner as each of their stories progress. Starting at their various homes across the country as they all begin their journey's to the show, how they look after their dogs, arrival, accommodation and of course the actual show group by group. As I have already said, each of the dog owners have their own unique, over the top quirks which are admittedly predictable and cliche, but at the same time well performed. The main humour in the movie is watching how each of these people go about their daily routines with themselves and of course their dogs. Its highly engaging to watch the gay couple and the way they act (and dress), their different styles (think 'The Birdcage'), naturally their little pooch is spoilt rotten. Parker Posey's character is a complete nervous wreck, severely neurotic and a total bitch because of it, I found this (her) to be quite sexy actually. Watching her and her other half fight over petty little things is actually really fun, you feel awkward and embarrassed just watching, the performances are that good. The duo are like a car crash, you just can't help but look, its almost like morbid curiosity to watch these people fight and bicker in public.
Guest himself doesn't actually play that much of an interesting character, a humble hick that sounds a bit slow, he has his little idiosyncrasies of course but nothing that is outstandingly funny. His character is actually the most regular and less outrageous of the bunch. Eugene Levy and O'Hara are probably the most cliched pairing in the movie (the stereotypical gays aside), I think it was obvious that Levy would be some kind of geek, and boy do they pile on the geek here, even giving him two left feet to appear even more pathetic. It is amusing to watch these two as they meet up with various people on their travels, the gag being Cookie (O'Hara) keeps bumping into blokes she once slept with back in the day. The whole angle is kinda corny admittedly but its Levy's reactions you're looking out for. Lastly the weakest of the lot goes to Coolidge as the blonde bimbo having an affair with her female dog trainer. Jane Lynch holds her own well as you'd expect, but I feel they could gone further with these two, a bit more naughty perhaps, it all just felt a bit bland and lacking.
The highlight of the film is the actual show of course, and it doesn't disappoint visually that's for sure. Pretty much looks like they used a real venue for the show, a packed capacity of extras, plenty of real dog owners...probably real competitors, probably real judges etc...the works. It also appears that the cast genuinely did train with the dogs and go through the hoops with them as it were, it all looks very real, true to the documentary style. Set against this level of realism is the typically brash all American commentator played by Fred Willard who kills it! This guy really ups the game so to speak, his obvious lack of any knowledge on the proceedings, along with his stereotypically fast sports style of commentary is brilliantly funny at times. The fact that he is partnered up with a smart, well spoken, no-nonsense Brit commentator (Jim Piddock) makes this scenario all the more delicious. Seeing Piddock's British dog expert character smiling politely at Willard's loud lowbrow American commentator as he comes out with his inane foot-in-mouth comments, is a glory to behold.
The movie is obviously all about stereotypes and satire, all the characters are typically cliche and predictable, behaving exactly how you would expect them too. I guess all Guest movies are in the same vein character wise, but this one felt more so to me. What did surprise me was the fact I was actually engaged in the plot, lets be honest here when you read that the film is all about a dog show, you could be forgiven for thinking the premise might not appeal. Again though, this does appear to be a typical Guest trait, choosing quite unusual (and generally mundane) plot scenarios that befit everyday life for everyday folk, to a degree, but not always. This just goes to show how good the comedy, writing and improv work is from all involved, that and its an original concept too, which is a breath of fresh air (give it a chance). I think anyone who knows what to expect from Guest will undoubtedly enjoy this, people not in know may need a bit more time to get into it, but I'm sure will get the hang of it quickly (surely everyone knows what to expect with Eugene Levy involved).
As for the other characters, the cast is quite the heterogeneous mixture. There's Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), a husband with two left feet -- and I really mean it -- and a wife with an extensive sexual history before meeting Gerry. Hamilton and Meg Swan (Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey) are snobbish, self-entitled city dwellers who thrive on having everything run exactly as they envision, down to trashing a pet store owner for not owning the squeaky bumblebee toy that the couple had lost. John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean play homosexual lovers Scott and Stefan, two hair stylists from NYC whose loving interactions may be the most interesting thing going on with them. (There's one more person, but I'll mention him later.) In terms of pacing, everybody shared equal screen time, with small diversions in the dog show with Fred Willard as a too-raunchy-for-real-TV commentator. Mind you, everybody plays their roles with full conviction, and as a film chock full of character work, good on all of the actors for churning enough material to reach the 90-minute mark. New jokes are fully welcome, like the sympathetic hotel manager (Ed Begley Jr) who offers the Flecks the best hotel room that no money can buy, right next to the kitchen. After a while, however, the recurring jokes and go-to characteristic-based laughs wear thin.
I acknowledge now that the jokes were wearing thin, but at the time, I kid you not that I was sincerely rooting for somebody to win. My heart personally melted for the final character, a fly-fisher named Harlan (Christopher Guest, also director and "writer") whose relationship with his bloodhound was so unconventionally precious that I feared to see him possibly lose when the champion was to be announced. I didn't want to see anybody lose though, not even the yuppie Swans. That's where the actors' work truly prevailed. Everybody cared very much about their dogs being the champions, and that passion weaved a strong thread through otherwise disjointed, but mostly very funny character scenes. I'm curious what Waiting for Guffman is like.