Best In Show is easily the funniest of the three Christopher Guest mockumetaries, if only because it keeps a bit of distance from its subjects and is better able to take its jabs at these uncommonly obsessive people. The movie doesn’t hold dog fanciers up for abject ridicule but it does expect them to be able to take a joke at their expense.
The movie covers the 125th annual Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia, which attracts a wide assortment of, ahem, colorful personalities, all of whom share one thing in common, a uncommon devotion to their canines. The defending champion is a poodle owned by a dim, collagen-enhanced trophy wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and trained by champion dog handler Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch). From the backwoods of South Carolina comes tackle store owner and aspiring ventriloquist Harlan Pepper and his bloodhound, Hubert (Guest). A Shih Tzu named Miss Agnes is the darling of a doting gay couple (Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins), the more flamboyant of whom packs eight kimonos for a two-day trip.
The movies two main stories belong the Swans and the Flecks. The Swans, Meg and Hamilton (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock), are a profoundly materialistic and unhappy yuppy couple who treat their Weimaraner, Beatrice, like the dysfunctional child they never had. Watching them obsess over ever possible nuance of their dog’s behavior makes you grateful they haven’t chosen to reproduce. Cookie and Jerry Fleck (Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy) express their love of Terriers by composing ditties about the virtues of the breed. While Cookie handles the dog show, Jerry has to deal with the fact that he literally has two left feet and that every man they meet seems to know his wife and has previously known her in a biblical way.
Calling the action for television audiences are the mismatched pair of the very proper and British Trevor Beckwith (Jim Piddock) and the clueless oaf Buck Laughlin (Fred Willard), who’s a composite of every annoying color man in the history of televised sports. His wholly inappropriate stream-of-consciousness commentary provide the bulk of the genuine belly laughs in the movie. The rest of the humor is of the observational, human variety.
There are a lot of parallels between these dog owners and parents who attempt to live their lives vicariously through the activities of their children, regardless of the misery it heaps upon their offspring. Watching this (or even a real dog show) causes me to wonder what, if anything the dogs get out of this. I just get the vibe from the animals in this movie that they would rather be anywhere but where they are, being poked and prodded for the benefit of others.
But regardless of the humor that Best In Show finds in the foibles of its characters, it still manages to empathize with their passion in life. This people aren’t pathetic, just very, very different in an entertaining way.