Our review of Best in Show (Blu-ray), published March 13th, 2013, is also available.
Some pets deserve a little more respect than others.
After mastering the format of classic mockumentaries with This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting For Guffman, writer/director/actor Christopher Guest set his sights on the highly-susceptible world of professional dog shows. Along with co-writer Eugene Levy, Guest has reassembled the Waiting For Guffman alumni and several new talented improvisationalists, making this ensemble truly the "Best In Show."
Facts of the Case
It's time once again for the Mayflower Kennel Club competition, the Super Bowl of dog shows. Dogs and their owners come from all over the country to compete, and hopefully take home the top honor—to be named "Best In Show." Arriving from Pine Nut, North Carolina, is Harlan Pepper (a red-headed, thick accented Guest) with his bloodhound Hubert. Pepper is a true renaissance man: in addition to showing Hubert, he runs a fly-fishing store and performs as a ventriloquist. Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Levy and Catherine O'Hara) hail from Fern City, Florida, where they write ditties for their prize-winning terrier, Winkie. Good-natured Gerry, born literally with two left feet, is constantly confronted with Cookie's former boyfriends everywhere they go. Lawyers Hamilton and Meg Swan (Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey) treat their dog Beatrice like a spoiled child, even taking the moody dog into their therapy sessions. Gay couple Stefan Vanderhoof and Scott Donlon (Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins) dote on their Shih Tzu Aggie. Wealthy Sheri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) and her trainer Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) are returning with their poodle Rhapsody In White after winning Best In Show for the past two years. Congenial host of the televised competition is Buck Laughlin (an uproarious Fred Willard), whose banal non-sequiters drive his co-host insane. Best In Show tells the story of all of these blue-ribbon hopefuls who are willing to devote their lives in the name of canines everywhere.
The primary joke of Best In Show is how much people actually look like their pets. Guest's sad sack Harlan Pepper looks like a human Bloodhound. The Swans' rigidity is mirrored in their joyless Weimeraner. The flamboyant gay couple owns a preening Shih Tzu. These people who devote their lives to competing with their pets are deserving of a little satire, and kudos to Guest for seeing that. Through his documentary lens we are able to see exactly what makes them tick. We learn about their backgrounds, successes, failures, hobbies, and of course, the unique personalities of their dogs. The results are almost always hysterical. Guest has become the master of the improvisational film, allowing each of his cast members the freedom to develop their characters without the bounds of a script. This film draws its talent from the unending wellsprings of The Second City and The Groundlings, institutions founded on improvisational technique. This time Guest himself takes a backseat (as opposed to his tour-de-force performance as Corky St. Clair in Waiting For Guffman) allowing his fellow casts members equal screen time. Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins really stand out as totally believable life-partners.
However, it's Fred Willard who takes home the prize for this film. When the Mayflower competition begins, Willard, as idiotic host Buck Laughlin, joins the fracas. Laughlin knows absolutely nothing about dogs and is obliviously unafraid to let that show. At one point, Laughlin has nothing left to say, so he turns to his smoldering co-host and asks, "How much do you think I can bench press?" Laughlin rivals Corky St. Clair in his totally blissful ignorance.
I have no complaints about the anamorphic widescreen transfer created by Warner Bros. for this disc. Best In Show must look like a real documentary, and is shot in 16mm. The video quality is consistent with this feel. So while nothing in the transfer wows the viewer, it's not really supposed to. The film was free of dirt and grain, with colors showing bright and blacks being solid. A very nice job by Warner all around.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is equally adequate. Virtually all of this film is dialogue (it doesn't even have a score), and plays crisply throughout the film from the center channel. There is some ambient noise, especially in the party and crowd scenes, which makes light use of the other channels. When the Mayflower telecast begins, theme music pumps loudly through all front channels, showing that this mix might cook if it had to.
Where this disc earns my blue ribbon is in the supplements. First off, there is a scene-specific audio commentary by Guest and Levy. This is a very informative track, which documents many of the technical aspects of making these types of film. Like Waiting For Guffman and Spinal Tap, Best In Show is an improvised film. Working from a very loose story outline, the actors create their characters when the camera begins to roll. Guest and his editors have hours upon hours of footage that they must whittle down to around 80 minutes. It is a fascinating process, and a testament to the talent of those involved that Best In Show is much funnier than most scripted comedies. When you sit two legends like Guest and Levy down for a chat (who cut their comedic teeth on "Saturday Night Live" and "SCTV," respectively), you'd expect a laugh riot. This decidedly low-key commentary is not as funny as one might expect, but it's still a nice companion piece.
Also included are thirty minutes of deleted scenes that are every bit as funny as anything that made the final cut. In fact, I think Guest cut some of his own best bits, which thankfully see the light of day here (one of my favorites involves Harlan Pepper showing off his prized beach ball collection). These scenes are widescreen and the quality is comparable to the rest of the film. My guess is these were probably in the running for the final cut. Audio commentary is also an option for these scenes, with Guest and Levy explaining why they needed to be cut. Guest and Levy mention a few other deleted scenes, which have not been included here. That's a frustrating tease, but beggars can't be choosers, and I'm happy to have thirty minutes. Rounding out the supplements are a theatrical trailer and some cast/filmmaker profiles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have few reservations about this DVD presentation. Dog owners and lovers will probably enjoy this movie best, as it skewers their world. As an amateur theatergoer, I preferred the world of Waiting For Guffman to that of Best In Show, but that's a small complaint when this movie kept me laughing hard all 80 minutes.
A wonderful presentation of a film that's destined to be a classic. If you've never seen one of Guest's mockumentaries, rent it first. But for the collectors and fans, Warner Bros. has delivered a top-notch presentation, with some very terrific supplements. This one deserves a purchase.
Not guilty! Best In Show is one disc worthy of its name!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy
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