Rated PG-13, but this is quintessential 2000s comedy. It's wildly offensive because of the lack of PC culture. Characters play insanely overt stereotypes. It really rides that fine line of laughing-with and laughing-at. There's a lot of sexual innuendo throughout the film. Some of that humor is disparaging; some of it is not. There's also some language, but that's mostly pretty tame. While the movie should be PG-13, it is also the product of a bygone era. Regardless, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Guest
My wife and her family have seemingly gone deep into Schitt's Creek. This actually all started because of my sister-in-law, who was wildly obsessed with the show. I like the show. I find myself gufawing at it once or twice an episode, which is pretty high praise. But my wife and my sister-in-law adore it. My wife and I are now oldish. In college, both of us were obsessed with the films of Christopher Guest. In the nicest way possible, compared to us, my sister-in-law is a baby. She has never heard of Christopher Guest. There were no moments where she could just quote Waiting for Guffman. So, because I got her as my Secret Santa, I bought her the Christopher Guest collection on Blu-Ray. But that just made me want to watch them as well. Thanks, TCM, for accommodating.
I know that I talked about this in the MPAA section, but I have a need to get this off my chest. I adore the works of Christopher Guest. I laugh a lot at these movies. There's something really uncomfortable about these movies now. Maybe times have change and maybe I'm just more woke, but there's a bit of problematic content in these movies. Between Corky St. Clair and Scott Donlan, there's some uncomfortable representation. 2000 was a very different time. I think I comment on this in other things I write, but the era between 1998-2002 was kind of the Wild West. Howard Stern reigned supreme and we were fighting for political incorrectness. The films of Christopher Guest aren't trying to be edgy, but there's also some low hanging jokes that tend to pop up in these movies. I always thought that Guest and John Michael Higgins, who play Corky and Scott respectively, might themselves be gay, kind of giving validity to the jokes. But both are cis-gendered males who are doing the voice throughout the films. A lot of the jokes in both films are "Aren't they flamboyant?", which probably doesn't hold up today. It feels different when Dan Levy does a variation on the character because he identifies with it. But Jane Lynch is in the film. I don't know if that is an example of tokenism or what. I don't know if it is unfair to ask her to sign off on jokes, but there it is. Regardless, it's a bit icky and I do want to point that out.
I'll always point to Waiting for Guffman as the quintessential Christopher Guest vehicle. There are times that I want to give that to This is Spinal Tap, but that's really Rob Reiner's baby. But Best in Show might be the most perfected of all the works that Guest worked on. The smaller the stakes, the tighter the film, in some ways. Best in Show treats the subject matter closer to an actual documentary that we might see. Realistically, if one was to make a documentary of the people involved in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, I imagine it would look a lot like this. In terms of plot, that means practically nothing. Like Salesman, the documentarian would have to simply follow the lives of these people. If nothing happened, nothing happened. In terms of delivering content, that means that the characters are given the opportunity to spout off varying philosophies. That's where the jokes really land.
Waiting for Guffman has an odd conceit that clashes with reality. I adore that film and can't wait to watch it again. But like The Office, you kind of have to shut your brain off about why this documentary exists and how a camera crew would have struck such gold. What would be the odds that a documentary film crew would be filming a movie about a play about Blaine that coincidentally was going to get picked up by Broadway? It's ludicrous, but that's where some of the humor comes from. On the other end of the scale, Guest's stories actually grow in scope and scale. A Mighty Wind follows quasi-celebrities for a grand reunion concert and For Your Consideration dives deep into the world of Hollywood politics.
But that's kind of what gives Best in Show its heart. The story ultimately doesn't matter, so it really comes down to crafting fun and relatable characters. There is a big payoff. Guest's films thrive on knowing that there's some deadline on the horizon and that these people will have to transcend their mundane lives to pull it off. With Guffman, it is the arrival of the titular character. With Best in Show, it is the Dog Show with the question of who will win. A Mighty Wind has the reunion and Consideration has the release of the film. It's so sad that I don't remember much about Mascots because I know I only watched it a few years ago. That big payoff creates this tension all throughout the film, which forces people who have never had to deal with something bigger than themselves to flounder. The stakes are elevated, so the personalities are elevated as well.
There was a documentary named Spellbound that came out about the same time as Best in Show. This isn't the Hitchcock movie of the same name. This is a movie about kids in a spelling bee. I'm not a sports guy or a gambling man. But during spring break in college, a bunch of my buddies and I rented that movie, put out snacks, and started aggressively betting on who was going to win that spelling bee. It's so odd that Best in Show and Spellbound kind of hold the same format. In retrospect, you know who is going to win. I mean, it never really matters who is going to win, but that part of my brain starts buzzing really hard when I know that's an option. But Guest is smart when he presents all these disparate folks together.
These personalities range from the lovable to the lamentable. While we root for winners Gerry and Cookie Fleck, the traditional underdog Charlie Browns of the group, Guest also gives us Harlan Pepper. I said that Guest really builds the Flecks up to be winners, but Harlan Pepper is also an extremely sympathetic character. Perhaps the most innocent of the group, Pepper lives in a world mostly isolated. He has his friends from the bait shop, one of whom is such a simpleton that even Pepper can only try to tolerate him. But he's also a really nice guy. He loves his dog and his attendance at the dog show is because he is proud of his dog. There is no real push for fame and glory. He just knows that he has a good dog and he wants his dog to be happy. I'm not a pet person, but Guest's character is such a nice guy that you can't help rooting for him.
But I'm also in love with the Flecks. Cookie is absurd. The running gag is very funny and it makes the movie full on hilarious. But poor Gerry. Eugene Levy is a genius. I'm just putting that out there right now. The man's comic timing and ability to make people laugh at the straight man is dead on perfect. I don't think I've ever seen something so appropriate as making Gerry Fleck literally have two left feet. It seems like an easy gag, but it also works as a reminder of who this character is supposed to be. He's a guy who has married out of his punching class. I know that Cookie seems silly throughout the film, but the actors really build these characters with a backstory that is on their sleeves. From Gerry's perspective, he was the left-footed dork who got the prom queen to like him. It's this sad story that is made funny by two outrageously funny actors. I adore it.
The variety of characters absolutely stunning and perfect. Yeah, I sympathize with the noble characters, but I find myself quoting the Swans more than anything else. The absurdity of those two characters is just perfect. Their opening interview talking about the J. Crew catalogs is one of my favorite things. I know the Starbucks joke is already pretty trite by 2000, but I don't even care at that point. I also love the line by Sherri Ann Cabot talking about "how we could talk or not talk for hours." There's just these beats that work.
Yeah, Best in Show might come across as a bit uncomfortable at times. But the jokes really work for the majority of the film. I also adore how small the movie is and it just relishes in it. It was made by Castle Rock, but it oddly epitomizes the independent spirit that the 2000s probably got right. This is a group of funny people doing funny things while caring about the product of the film. It's pretty great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.