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Best in Show

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Best in Show

Starring: Christopher Guest, Catherine O'Hara
Director: Christopher Guest
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: September 2000
Genre: Comedy


*Also starring: Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Steven Porter, Fred Willard



Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Beatrice, lying sad and limp on her psychiatrist's couch, is emotionally devastated. After walking into her parents bedroom and witnessing, well, you know, she hasn't been the same sense. Her parents, Meg (Parker Posey) and Hamilton Swan (Michael Hitchcock), two type-A yuppie lawyers, are actually her owners -- not that they'd admit it -- since Beatrice is a dog. Of the three, Beatrice is by far the sanest.

In an age in which comedies seem to come only in two flavors, mean and meaner (or crude and cruder), Christopher Guest's BEST IN SHOW is a delightful change of pace. It's a good-spirited comedy that gets laughs the old-fashioned way with sweetness and charm. Guest, whose specialty is mockumentaries, acted in THIS IS SPINAL TAP and acted in, directed and co-wrote WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, which he does again for BEST IN SHOW.

This fake documentary about the world of competitive dog shows is, of course, not really about the dogs but about their owners. With a terrific ensemble cast, many of whom appeared in WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, the story moves from one hilarious episode to another. Although Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy are credited as the writers, the press notes say that most of the lines were purposely improvised, which adds to the mock authenticity.

Guest plays Harlan Pepper, a good olde boy from Pinenut, North Carolina, whose obsession with nut-naming used to drive his mother, well, nuts. His dog, Hubert, is a Bloodhound who bears a resemblance to his owner. Or is it the other way round? Actually this is a trait common to most of the dogs and their owners in BEST IN SHOW.

Beatrice, a tall, thin Weimaraner, looks like her tall, lanky owners except that she doesn't have matching braces like they do. Meg and Hamilton are clothes horses and catalog fanatics, whose favorite game is to take the latest L.L. Bean catalog and try to name all of the new items in less than five minutes. As Meg puts it gushingly, "We are so lucky to have been raised among catalogs!"

No one can play the hyperactive bitch role with more charm and grace than Posey, who may be best known for her role as Tom Hank's live-in girlfriend in YOU'VE GOT MAIL. Her best performance, however, was probably her office rebel in CLOCKWATCHERS, a great black satire on cubicle life.

A wealthy, non-talking octogenarian named Leslie Ward Cabot (Patrick Cranshaw) and his cheesy, younger wife, Sherri Ann (Jennifer Coolidge), are proud owners of the two-time Best in Show champion, Rhapsody in White, a Standard Poodle with an outlandish haircut. Sherri Ann, with her bee-stung lips and jumbo-sized breasts, brags about all of things that she and her husband have to talk and to not talk about.

In order to ensure that they'll win the crown again, Sherri has hired professional handler Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch). Christy tells us about her family. Her father was the disciplinarian, whereas her mother's role was to give "unconditional love," which she did until she committed suicide in 1981.

The beauty of the casting is the way that the actors don't seem like actors at all but just ordinary folks. And the most ordinary of the lot is the movie's co-writer Eugene Levy, who plays Gerry Fleck, a gregarious bad-dresser. Gerry, ironically, makes his living as a menswear salesman. He was nicknamed "looper" in school for his tendency to walk in loops since he literally has two left feet.

Gerry and his wife, Cookie (Catherine O'Hara), have a Norwich Terrier. Every guy Cookie runs into seems to have had a liaison with her at some time. ("I banged a lot of waitresses in my day, but you were the best," a man tells her in front of her embarrassed husband at a cocktail party. She smiles, slightly bemused, and the guy walks away.)

When everyone finally gets to the big show, the commentary is provided by a smooth talking Brit, Trevor Beckwith (Jim Piddock), and his obnoxious sidekick, Buck Laughlin (Fred Willard). With everything from sports analogies to proctology analogies, Buck successfully drives his companion and the audience crazy. At our press screening, one of the critics got so into it that he yelled, "Oh shut-up!" to Buck. BEST IN SHOW is the kind of movie that has you forgetting that it is a movie.

I don't want to give too much away, but the winner of the big show is a real dog. After the canine equivalent of the big game ending, the movie has an extended epilogue that is perhaps the best part of the picture. But with a film this funny, it is hard to pick favorites.

BEST IN SHOW runs a fast 1:30. It is rated PG-13 for language and sex-related material and would be fine for kids around 11 and up.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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