Director Christopher Guest had quite a run in the late ’90s and early 2000s, producing a series of very funny mockumentaries, featuring a large company of returning actors, and poking fun at hilarious corners of weird Americana. Waiting For Guffman was about small-town theater, A Mighty Wind about folk music, and For Your Consideration about awards-mongering movie acting.
But Guest’s most successful of these films was Best in Show, which arrived in theaters 20 years ago last week, in September of 2000. The film, focused on a collection of oddballs converging at a dog show competition in Philadelphia, certainly wrung some comedy out of the eccentricities of the dog show world. I’ve always found the film hilarious, and I care not in the slightest about dogs or dog shows.
Guest had quite a run in the late ’90s and early 2000s, producing a series of very funny mockumentaries
But the key to the success of Best In Show was that most of the humor had nothing to do with dogs or dog shows at all, but rather consisted of talented people creating memorable characters, and delivering one great character moment after another. The cast consisted of most of Guest’s usual company, including Eugene Levy (who co-wrote), Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael McKean, Jane Lynch, and Fred Willard. The actors all improvised the majority of the dialogue, which was based on a thin outline by Guest and Levy.
The film follows the different competitors in the dog show, as they travel to Philadelphia for the competition. Slowly, we gather that certain things are going on with the couples.
Levy and O’Hara, we soon realize, have no money, and everywhere they go, they seem to run into a past lover of O’Hara’s. Posey and her husband (Michael Hitchcock) seem to hate one another, while Jennifer Coolidge’s Sherri Ann is married to an elderly man (Patrick Crenshaw), but having an affair with Lynch’s character. The movie’s gay couple (John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean) seem to have the film’s most functional relationship.
It all leads up to the dog show competition in the third act, and Fred Willard’s famous turn as TV commentator Buck Laughlin, who repeatedly makes off-color comments and doesn’t appear to know the first thing about dogs or dog shows.
Best in Show wasn’t a massive box office hit, but it’s become more and more popular as new fans have discovered it over time. While every theater person I know loves Guffman, I have no idea how popular Best in Show is among the dog show community, although the movie’s popularity is said to have led to rebranding of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia Dog Show to the National Dog Show, which is televised annually.
As a Philadelphian, I must declare that Best in Show does not count as a Philadelphia movie, and not only because it wasn’t filmed there. No, there’s no Mayflower Kennel Club, there’s no such place as the Beyman Center or any such place as the Taft Hotel, and Philadelphia Cream Cheese not only isn’t made in Philadelphia, but has nothing to do with the city historically.