Christopher Guest's Best in Show (2000)

Christopher Guest's Best in Show (2000)

Coming up with an early eighties hit and ostensibly hibernating for the next decade – or at least skirting directorial stuff – resulted in a reemergence of Christopher Guest during the tail end of the nineties. Beginning his second ascent to comedic gold with Waiting for Guffman didn’t ensure Guest a string of success. Instead, taking a brief detour through a script penned by some (assumed) Hollywood folks most likely reaffirmed Guest’s belief in his own writing abilities.

Well, writing might not be the right word.

As so painstakingly noted everywhere, a good deal of Guest’s films embrace improvised sections. It’s pretty clear that the tactic works in most of the interview scenes spread out over the course of his four complete successes. But then, instead of perceiving Guest as a master of common conversation, folks should really be examining how the ‘writer,’ director and actor works to set up situations in which his cast is granted a chance to simply become a character and react to various, surrounding stimuli. It must have seemed like a gamble at first, but with Guffman’s critical acclaim, revisiting the style couldn’t have been too far off in the wings.

Four years after his first directing a prentendo documentary, Guest brings out a variation on the form, this time using dog shows as the frame for his character study in lieu of small time theater. Again, the built in tension and pre-figured climax might make some people capable of guessing the Best in Show’s conclusion, but how the film gets there is pretty entertaining.

Beginning the flick with brief vignettes of the various couples entering their dogs into this contest lends ample insight into how each pair is set to interact for the duration of the feature. In this particular aspect of the film’s form, it doesn’t deviate from any other fictitious filmic endeavor. But with Guest again using (and perhaps commenting) on the talking head form of documentary filmmaking, he’s able to wind up with another narrative arc that doesn’t make itself readily apparent during viewing. Viewers just know that the film will end with an award. That’s it.

Best in Show isn’t ever difficult to follow. But at the same time there doesn’t seem to be too much forward momentum. Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy portray a hilarious married couple, though. And with O’Hara’s character constantly running into past lovers, not only is one of Guest’s pervasive character traits revealed, there’s some semblance of tension in the duo’s relationship. And that’s really what most of the feature can be figured to concern itself with. The lesbian couple goes through its own strife as does the straight, J. Crew couple.

Less commentary on modern American living, than satire, Guest and his writing partner, Levy, are again able to craft a bevy of believable characters. And while the setting that they’re all placed won’t necessarily hit home with a wide breadth of the potential viewing audience, it’s nonsensical enough not to matter. This feature, as much as anything apart from Spinal Tap, marks the legacy that Guest was unfurling. It shouldn’t be considered the director’s best work, but at the time, it was easily his most popular.