By Caroline Nelson ‘16Film Columnist
Finals season can be extremely stressful, so what better time to watch a movie about cute dogs and the people who love them obsessively? In the 1990’s, Christopher Guest made a few very funny mockumentaries, including “Waiting For Guffman” and “A Mighty Wind,” that affectionately satirized the pretentions and fixations of their subjects. While the other two centered around community theater and folk music respectively, “Best in Show” chronicles the dog owners and their beloved canines competing to win Best in Show at the Mayflower Kennel Club Show in Philadelphia.
The characters train and prepare their dogs before they make their way across the country, only to show up at the competition and encounter a plethora of last-minute catastrophes. The people range from a trophy wife who insists that she and her fossil of a husband have a lot in common (they both like soup), a pair of aggressive yuppies who treat their dog like their child, a terrier-loving couple (the wife of whose sexual history seems to include half the men in North America), a flamboyantly gay couple who still somehow manage to be hilarious despite the fact that the trope they embody has been done to death, and a fishing store employee whose hobbies include ventriloquism and naming nuts.
Guest has a talent for simultaneously making fun of his characters and treating them with generosity; even though these characters completely lack perspective it is often hard not to admire their striving. Part of their appeal comes from the immensely talented people portraying them.
Guest is one of those directors who uses the same group of actors over and over again, almost without variation. Filmmakers who do this are often criticized, but such scoffing misses a few points. Filmmaking is highly collaborative and thus can be made significantly more difficult if the people involved are not committed to realizing the filmmaker’s idiosyncratic vision (and visions do not get much more idiosyncratic than Christopher Guest). Additionally, if the actors in question are so good at what they do—this could definitely be said of the regular cast of Guest’s mockumentaries—then it would be unwise to avoid using them. If a director had Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, and Parker Posey at their disposal, then a better question might be: why wouldn’t that director use them for multiple films? “Best in Show” features some great comedic performances, the chief amongst which is Guest himself sporting a pitch-perfect Southern accent and deadpan description of his dog’s telepathic powers.
Then there are, of course, the dogs themselves. They are pampered, groomed, shown-off, talked to, sung about, and examined from every angle. This event is allegedly all about them but in their eyes is often a look of absolute mystification at the antics of the humans around them. This is the film’s great underlying joke: this event is allegedly all about the dogs, but the canines in question couldn’t care less.