Doggy Delight 

Best in Show (PG-13)
Castle Rock Entertainment

Best in Show is a clever, funny "mockumentary" about the people who love dogs and love to show them. It follows four couples and one single guy who all are obsessed with their dogs, compete with their dogs, and finally make it to the Mayflower Dog Show in Philadelphia. Like the old adage says, the people look just like their dogs.

There's the giant bloodhound Hubert who belongs to Harlan Pepper (Christopher Guest), the good-old-boy owner of a Southern fishing tackle shop. Pepper, when he isn't practicing ventriloquism, tries to give voice to Hubert's mind, in an accent every bit as droopy as his doggy jowls. There's Hamilton and Meg Swan (Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey), a yuppie couple who recount in great detail their courtship in two parallel Starbucks. Their sulky Weimaraner Beatrice, is ruining their relationship, in part by objecting whenever the Swans have sex.

Gerry and Cookie Fleck, owners of Winkie, a Norwich Terrier, travel up to Philadelphia from Florida. Gerry was born, quite literally, with two left feet, and while Cookie has such a complex sexual history that men up and down the East Coast keep recognizing her and describing their sexual congress in great detail, much to Gerry's chagrin.

In the toy dog category is Miss Agnes, a shih tzu owned by Stephan and Scott (Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins), an over-the-top gay couple from New York. Finally, there is the trio of the aged, practically catatonic and wealthy Leslie Cabot (Patrick Cranshaw), his sexpot young wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and their standard poodle Rhapsody in White, trained and groomed to a fare-thee-well by the social climbing Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch).

Like all subcultures, from boat enthusiasts to cross-stitchers to crossbow hunters, dog people have all kinds of rules and regulations, etiquette and expectations that seem ludicrous to those on the outside. That, of course, is what leaves them wide open for the type of parody that writer/director Christopher Guest undertakes in Best of Show. By using a mock documentary style, complete with some gritty handheld camera work, (the same that Guest used to great effect in This is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman), we are treated to less of a plot than a slow accretion of increasingly funny vignettes.

To add to the documentary feel of the movie, the actors, a very talented crew, were given only the outlines of what to do and say. The rest was improv, edited down to a manageable hour and a half. Most of the characters were one-note-Nellies, not a lot of depth to any of them, which is why, in part, the movie had to grow on me. The comedy starts out a bit too broad, too over-the-top to be really funny. But as each of the characters plays out true to form, the real rewards come forth. By the end I was wagging my tail as the credits rolled.


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