A Treat

Best in Show, like This is Spinal Tap, is one of those imrpovisation movies which plays out like a documentary (they often are called "mockumentaries"), and have a completely different pacing and feel than the other movies out there. It's always a refreshing experience to watch these, but how does these movies, with their different rules, stack up as an example of film?

The camera follows five promising dogs and their owners/trainers competing in the Mayflower dog show. This is a perfect idea for this kind of movie - people get very human around silly little competitions like this, and that's the whole point of improvisation, showing the humanity in people behind what they say.

Our cast is largely from a world of improvisation - Christpher Guest and Eugene Levy also wrote the story that formed the framework for the film. We also have Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins as flamboyantly gay couple, plus Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey as catalog-worshipping yuppies, and Catherine O'Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, and Jane Lynch round out our owner/trainers. And perhaps the most remarkable performance comes from Fred Willard as half of the broadcast team calling the dog show.

Willard only worked for a day and a half on his part, and was given no homework in terms of preparation in order to look unknowledgeable. As the commentary track on the DVD says, he has mastered the craft of the confidently stupid, spewing non-sequitors and ill-informed thoughts left and right. It's almost a shame we see him only at the end of the film, for he gets most of the best lines. I was fortunate enough to see him in person once, calling a spoof fashion show in a similar manner. Indeed, he can unquestionably riff with the best of them.

Okay, so what about the nitty-gritty details of what makes a movie? The plot is there, but is somewhat minimal - understandable, given the situation. At the other end of the spectrum, we get a lot more character exploration than we would elsewhere, though no great character arcs are waiting to inspire us. The film itself is an observation on the human experience, no more, no less. In that sense, it fulfills all that it aspires to, though it is not aiming that high. Altogether a wonderfully enjoyable experience.

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