(director/writer: Christopher Guest; screenwriter: Eugene Levy; cinematographer: Roberto Schaefer; editor: Robert Leighton; cast: Christopher Guest (Harlan Pepper), Parker Posey (Meg Swan), Michael Hitchcock (Hamilton Swan), Eugene Levy (Gerry Fleck), Catherine O’Hara (Cookie Fleck), John Michael Higgins (Scott Donlan), Michael McKean (Stefan Vanderhoof), Patrick Cranshaw (Leslie Ward Cabot), Jennifer Coolidge (Sherri Ann Cabot), Jane Lynch (Christy Cummings), Bob Balaban (Dr. Theodore W. Millbank 3rd), Don Lake (Graham Chissolm), Jim Piddock (Trevor Beckwith), Fred Willard (Buck Laughlin), Jay Brazeau (Therapist); Runtime: 89; Castle Rock Entertainment/ Warner Brothers; 2000)

“It works because it’s laugh out loud satire, with my two favorite nutsy characters being Parker Posey and Eugene Levy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An hilarious spoof of a Philadelphia dog show. This is a very spirited mockumentary written/directed/starring Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman). The barbs are well aimed and they reflect my negative opinion of dog fanciers who need ego satisfaction from their dog winning a prize to prop themselves up in self-esteem.

The film follows several dog owners on their way to the snooty 125th annual Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Each of the contestants is an odd character and very funny, as we see them prepare at home for their trip to Philly and then we see their arrival at the Taft Hotel before we finally watch the dog show. It’s amusingly announced by the odd duo of the boorish Buck Laughlin (Willard) and the proper commentary provided by Trevor Beckwith (Piddock). Buck peppers his comments with salty remarks and constantly says crass thing and always seems to be misinformed while the color analyst, an erudite Brit, is very serious about the event and answers all the jests with straight-forward comments on the correct procedures to be followed. It’s probably the only dog show I could have sat so joyfully through.

Meg (Posey) and Hamilton Swan (Hitchcock) are both hopelessly neurotic Illinois lawyers who met while looking through the window in opposite street Starsbucks coffee shops. They share the same out of control tensions and anger, both wear braces, were raised on L. L. Bean catalogs, and our each seeing a therapist because their child’s jealousy ruined their sex life. It turns out that the child they’re talking about is their prize pure-bred Weimaraner, an oversensitive and at times hostile hunting dog named Beatrice. The spoiled dog will get disqualified when he jumps on the judge, as before the contest the couple went into a snit because they lost her Busy Bee squeaky toy in the hotel–with Meg going into a tirade against the maid for not finding the toy and at the toy store clerk who didn’t have any Busy Bee toys in stock.

In Fern City, Florida, the pampered dog is a Norwich terrier named Winky, owned by a working-class couple — Cookie (O’Hara) and her nerdy clothing salesman husband, Gerry Fleck (Levy, he co-wrote the script). The running gag here is that Cookie has a checkered history of sex with numerous men before she met Gerry and on this journey they will meet various men who remember in vivid detail their sexual fling with her but she can’t recall them until they describe the unique way they had sex, as Gerry pouts. Another funny scene is when they arrive at the Philly hotel and they can’t pay for their room with their credit card because it’s invalid, so they are given instead a utility room next to the kitchen without a toilet in the room. Also used for comic effect, is the fact that Gerry literally was born with two left feet and when she sprains an ankle he has to show the dog.

Coming up from Pine Nut, N.C., is an owner of an established fly-fishing shop, Harlan Pepper (Guest), who is also an aspiring ventriloquist. His prized dog is Hubert, a noble bloodhound he believes he can communicate with by getting inside his head like he does the dummy.

From a loft in Manhattan’s Tribeca section comes a rich gay couple, telling wry jokes. The younger one dressing outlandishly loud and acting swishy. Scott Donlan (Higgins) is the young dog breeder and his more sophisticated partner, a film buff of the ’30s and ’40s musicals, Stefan Vanderhoof (McKean), dote on their prized twin Shih Tzus, but especially on the one entered in the contest — Miss Agnes (named after Agnes Moorhead).

In a Philly mansion we meet the uncommunicative, elderly millionaire Leslie Ward Cabot (Cranshaw), who looks like he has one foot in the grave, and his breast implanted well-endowed, very young trophy wife Sherri Ann Cabot (Coolidge). Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch) is the ambitious lesbian handler of the couple’s two-time winner of the Mayflower Kennel, the standard poodle, Rhapsody in White. The girls will become an item and later run a lesbian dog lovers magazine called American Bitch.

There’s no plot, it all resembles an improv TV comedy skit. It works because it’s laugh-out-loud satire, with my two favorite nutsy characters being Parker Posey and Eugene Levy.

Best in Show

REVIEWED ON 12/16/2001 GRADE: B +