Breaking Glass // 2011 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 30th, 2012
Every dog has its day.
When Christopher Guest created his comedy classic Best in Show, he used his patented improv style to capture a glimpse of an isolated and insular world few could imagine. Sure, everyone had heard of the bow wow beauty pageants that supposedly crown the masterpieces of the mutts (by size and group), but by using the people behind the pooches as the impetus for his humor, he unearthed a wealth of healthy human condition comedy.
Something similar happens in Worst in Show, a documentary by John Beck and Don R. Lewis. In this case, the duo focuses on the World's Ugliest Dog Competition held in Petaluma, California and a group of wily competitors who hope to parlay their animal's lack of good looks into...well, that's not really very clear. Fame? Fortune? A lifetime supply of Kibbles and Bits? Anyway, the storyline follows reigning champion Pabst (owned by the unassuming and humble Miles Egstad) and Rascal -- supposed descendent of greatness or grossness (however you want to look at it) -- whose guided by the irritating glory hound Dane Andrew. While there are others involved in the narrative, the main thread consists of the goofy back and forth between calm and calculated, decent and desperate for attention.
Again, everything revolves around the people. Andrew is clearly living vicariously through his mutant pup, meeting such stalwart celebs as Donald Trump, Ashley Judd, and Jane Russell (?) while trying to find a way to parlay his 15 minutes of quasi fame into something more substantial. Egstad knows the clock is ticking on his limelight time...and doesn't really mind. He's modest and self-effacing against Andrew's raging ego. Sure, there are subtexts along the way (our obsession with pets, the definition of "beauty," the need for an outlet for those without a viable format to explore their desires) and a telltale twist or two (someone actually discovers the voting system has been hacked!!!). But for the most part, Worst in Show centers less on the canine and more on the characters behind the leash.
If you only focus on the fur, you'll miss the majority of what makes this movie so compelling. On the other hand, the people who populate this ersatz awards pageant are so well known now, they are almost a cliche. Only a quirky lady with a depressing story of suicide finds the right balance of known and novelty to get us past the predictable.
This makes Worst is Show a tad tedious. We know the set-up for heroes and villains, we get the right vs. might meaning in several of the showdowns, and no documentary can wholly survive several moments where you want to slap the subjects (the humans, not the dogs). Beck and Lewis bring us to the ceremony, but don't really cull anything inventive or fresh out of it. Like focusing on people who collect the artwork of serial killers or redneck enthusiasts who believe mudding is the only sport that matters, eccentricity often leads to isolation. We don't "get" what Andrew is really after (he can come off as phony and self-absorbed) and fail to see a full comparison to Egstad.
There are other dogs featured -- Icky, Winston, Sam, Chi Chi -- and their owners may find support. But when it comes down to it, we want a bit more drama and a little less dog. Worst in Show celebrates something arcane in our world of wanting perfection. The reasons behind it, however, are hidden for more and more oddballs and their four legged lunch tickets.
As for the DVD itself, Breaking Glass does a good job. The anamorphic widescreen looks pretty good. This film was made on the cheap, and some of the homemade elements come through on the 1.78:1 image. As for the sound situation, the Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix does a good job of keeping the dialogue, interviews, and off the cuff conversations front and center. We also outtakes, a directors' commentary (almost essential to understanding their moviemaker motives), a short film, and a look at an Ugly Dog Ice Cream commercial. There's even a touching piece on Winston and his need for (and receipt of) a wheelchair. Overall, the tech specs speak volumes for the distributor's faith in this film.
With the Westminster Dog extravaganza arriving around Valentine's Day every year, something like Worst in Show functions as the perfect pristine pooch antidote. It's not always successful, but when it works, it's wonderful.
Not Guilty. The film has it's issues, but still finds a way to make you wag
your tail in delight.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Breaking Glass
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film
* Official Site