Director: Christopher Guest
Writer: Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy
Cinematographer: Roberto Schaefer
by Jon Cvack
With the exception of This is Spinal Tap, I haven’t seen any Christopher Guest films until Best in Show. Back when I was in high school in the 00s when he seemed to be most popular I didn’t really enjoy the deadpan, improvised humor. It’s not the funniest movie in the world, but there are definitely moments, such as Harlan Pepper (who I’m embarrassed to have discovered is Christopher Guest) talking about nuts. It’s a clip that I’ve watched probably a dozen times in the last year after a friend shared (see below).
The entire story revolves around a Dog Show, with an amazing and hilarious cast, including Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara playing Gerry and Cookie Fleck as a unbalanced couple where Gerry is forced to contain his jealousy as Catherine’s approached by her endless barrage of ex-lovers, ostensibly every man Catherine has ever met, each without any concern in the world for Gerry’s feelings; Parker Posey and Hamilton Swan as Meg and Hamilton Sway, both with braces, who met at a Starbucks, trying their best to keep their tempers cool; Jennifer Coolidge and Leslie Ward Cabot as Sherri Ann and Leslie Ward Cabot, with Sherri Ann having a secret lesbian affair with their trainer Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch); and John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean as gay couple Scott Donlan and Stefan Vanderhoof.
Christopher Guest does an a pretty good job of taking couples from all walks of the sexual spectrum - heterosexual, single, and gay (albeit all white); all with their own issues and problems. Aside from the exaggerated humor, they all feel extremely honest and true, with Guest allowing us to develop our own insights based off their interactions and personalities. Meg and Hamilton Sway are the couple who each seemed to struggle to find someone willing to put up with their high maintenance personalities, which at first seem easy going and manageable until the slightest thing goes wrong, and they explode at each other and anyone around them.
With Gerry and Cookie it’s clear that Cookie has the vast upper hand, likely bouncing from man to man, each with their own unique and despicable disdain for women, until finally shacking up with Gerry who’s clearly willing to put with anything. Scott and Stefan are the most endearing couple, as their fights rarely extend beyond innocent banter. Of all the couples, they feel the most real. Although some of the actors are so big compared to the common characters they play, Michael McKean was able to transcend the problem and embody his character, thanks to how incredible his partner Michael Higgins was. While Leslie, Sherri, and Christy’s was a bit more direct and superficial, Jennifer Coolidge’s seemingly complete uninterest in the entire situation, even with her lover Christy, did create some pretty great moments, particularly in the closing segment as they show off their Dogs in Movies pinup calendar project.
I haven’t seen any other Guest movies since, but I’m already fascinated by his distinct voice and style. Best in Show somehow locates that perfect balance between plausibility and satire. The dog show is kind of absurd, but the characters are portrayed with such strong passion, personality, and conviction that we buy into it, wondering how it all connects together. I enjoyed how all of the couples won the initial round, providing us with such a simple answer to the question “Why these people?” Having them all as winners let’s us imagine what the other owners would have been like. It so heavily honors the style of documentary filmmaking, with the interviews looking straight out of an Errol Morris film, and showing us the action the way we’d imagine in an actual documentary.
You’re left wondering how much is improvised, how much is written, and how much was collaboration for each particular scene. To see a documentary about the making of this film would be incredible.
BELOW: Best clip of the movie
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