Best In Show (1993)

Though the mock-doc format may be currently overused, and you get a sense here that a real documentary about the event would be more interesting, this is still an infallibly entertaining and engaging effort from writer-director-star Christopher Guest (unrecognisable from his pioneering Spinal Tap work), following five dogs and their owners/trainers as they compete in the Mayflower Kennel Club show, rising (mostly) from Best in Breed to compete for Best in Show.

The dogs actually get rather little attention, though as usual there is some suggestion of a resemblance between them and their owners. Guest, the only single owner, is a lugubrious rural fishing-store proprietor with a bloodhound, while the rest of the line up are: peppy, once-promiscuous Catherine O'Hara and her two-left-footed husband Eugene Levy (also co-writer) and their Norwich terrier; thin, neurotic yuppies Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, who have matched braces on their teeth and attend psychotherapy sessions with their neurotic Weimaraner (who gets thrown out of the contest for attacking a judge); New York gay couple Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins and their Shih Tzu, who wind up shooting a novelty calendar with their dogs dressed as stars in recreations of Gone With the Wind, Casablanca and McMillan and Wife; and trophy wife Jennifer Coolidge, whose poodle is entrusted to superambitious lesbian trainer Jane Lynch (they wind up founding American Bitch magazine). Also on hand is commentator Fred Willard, who keeps talking even when there's nothing to say and clearly knows nothing about the subject, and British expert Jim Piddock, who tries to remain good-humoured, along with officials Bob Balaban and Don Lake and discreet hotelier Ed Begley Jr. It's mostly a question of setting off the running jokes - O'Hara encountering former boyfriends, Posey and Hitchcock having hysterical rows, Lynch making machiavellian moves, Higgins changing outfits - and playing variations, and the likely winners become obvious early on as sympathy focuses on Levy. The format is the usual mix of to-camera improv interviews, glimpsed arguments and scenes, with a plot thread - here, the basic who will win? - upon which to hang all the gags and observations.

First published in this form here.

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