Christopher Guest is the master of awkward. His hilarious mockumentaries paved the way for modern television shows like 'The Office' and 'Modern Family.' The way he captures the intricate nature of his actors' improvisations is an unrivaled talent. 'Best of Show' is one of Guest's best films.
Guest has the keen ability to pull comedy out of the most mundane situations, the reason is that he focuses on his characters, and slowly builds on their stories as the movie progresses. Usually, most of his characters turn out to be delusional in one way or another. Many of them create awkward tension, through their improvising, which is palpable during the movie. I still cringe when I watch poor left-footed Eugene Levy in 'Best in Show' trying to suppress his wife's sordid sexual history.
'Best in Show' is no stranger to crazy. The movie starts out with a high-strung yuppie couple (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) visiting their therapist because they're worried that their prize-winning Weimaraner, Beatrice, has gone into an existential funk after seeing them having sex. The crazy doesn't stop there. Gerry (Levy) and Cookie Fleck (Catherine O'Hara) are from Florida. Gerry has two left feet (literally) and Cookie has seemingly banged every balding man from Florida to Philadelphia. Harlan Pepper (Guest) owns a Bloodhound and takes a keen interest in ventriloquism. Sherri Ann (Jennifer Coolidge) and Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) are the favorites to win the big show with their Standard Poodle named Rhapsody in White. Sherri is a clueless bimbo who married an old, wealthy man. Christy is the dog handler. There may be some sexual tension between the two. Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins) and Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean), are a gay couple with a Shih-Tzu . They bring their own wall art when checking into a hotel.
The entire gang of misfit dog owners is headed to Philadelphia for the big Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show; all of them bringing their own special breed of dog and insanity. Guest lets the actors run with the scenes, which usually results in some hilariously awkward moments. John Michael Higgins may be playing a stereotypical, flamboyant gay man, but most of his scenes are classic. I could watch the scene in the deli over and over and still laugh.
Watching the Fleck's operate is downright awkward though. You can't help but feel for Gerry as he's confronted, time and again, with his wife's past lovers. Who, when they see Gerry, perceive him as no threat so they start hitting on his wife like he's not even there. It's painful and comical at the same time.
The story of the Swans, and their crumbling marriage, is agonizingly hysterical. L.L. Bean, Mac computers, Starbucks, they're the epitome of the '90s yuppie culture. They're also one of those couples who bicker in public, often loudly, without any concern for the people around them. Most of Guest's characters are usually stuck in their own little bubble. A tiny world of utter delusion.
Then the characters actually get to the dog show and the nuanced awkwardness of their interviews is countered by the welcomed all-out absurdity of Fred Willard's announcing. Even though the movie is filled with comedic geniuses, Willard shines, because he's allowed to be as wacky as he wants to be. His comments about the dogs, their owners, and the ridiculousness of dog shows in general are some of the best lines of dialogue in the film.
It's not as perfectly well-rounded as Guest's mockumentary masterpiece, 'Waiting for Guffman,' but it's close. 'Best in Show' takes on another eccentric group of characters and exploits their weirdness for laughs. It's one of those movies that you can watch multiple times without it ever getting old.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Best in Show' is a Warner Bros. release. It comes in a standard keepcase on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. There's no indication on the case as to its region compatibility. Though it's likely a Region A disc.
Warner's 1080p presentation is true to the 16mm source. Like most movies filmed on 16mm, the high-def transfer appears a little gauzy. The softness and extra grain are normal, even though they may appear to make the video presentation less than stellar.
Even though the video here will never be considered demo quality, it still does a great job considering its source. The interviews are full of more detail than I remember seeing on the DVD release. Faces have stronger lines and better resolved facial hair. Although, hair, for the most part, appears as a blended mass instead of distinct individual strands.
The further the camera gets away from the subject of focus the more soft the picture becomes. The wide shots of the dogs prancing around in the show are the softest shots the movie has to offer. Blacks are a tad washed out and so are the colors. Skin tone tends toward the pale, but all that can be chalked up to the visual limitations of 16mm film. Considering what the movie was shot on, I'm pleased with the outcome here. Warner has done a nice job restoring the film, free from any unsightly noise or blemishes. It may be soft, but it accurately reflects Guest's vision for the film.
This is an extremely front-heavy mix, as you might have already guessed. It is provided with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, however, the nature of the movie doesn't have much need for surround effects.
The only real moments of rear channel activity provided are during the dog show. Light applause from the audience resonates softly in the rear channels. Other than those few moments, most of the movie's sound is localized in the front part of the soundfield.
Dialogue is always clear. There are a lot of improvised lines that are said under an actor's breath or off screen and the mix captures those perfectly. Even Guest's backwoods, hard-to-understand accent is clearly defined here. I may have to turn on the subtitles to understand what he's saying, but that isn't the fault of the mix. It's one of the thickest, mumbled accents I've ever heard in a movie.
'Best in Show' is Christopher Guest in top form. It's another journey into the absurd, which Guest has perfected over the years. His characters run the gamut as far as mental stability is concerned. It's a joy to watch all of these actors improvising, having fun, and creating a nuanced comedy about quiet (and not-so-quiet) maniacs. The video is true to its source and the audio is what you'd expect from a talk-heavy mockumentary. 'Best in Show' is definitely recommended.