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Film / Best in Show

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"Some pets deserve a little more respect than others."

A 2000 mockumentary film directed by Christopher Guest, written by Eugene Levy with Guest co-writing, and co-starring, besides Guest and Levy, Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara and Parker Posey.

The movie follows five dogs and their owners who enter the annual Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, and the unique relationship the people have with their dogs and with one another. Best in Show features a heavily improvised script that results in some wild tangents concerning everything from red pistachio nuts to a grisly description of a body being flung off a skyscraper.

This movie demonstrates the following tropes:

  • Audience Surrogate: Buck Laughlin, the clueless athletic co-commentator at the dog show, exists as an entertaining character for the dog show to be explained to by the qualified commentator for the audience's benefit. Since dog shows are a niche most viewers may not understand, Buck can stand in for them to let the explanations be justified in the script.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Meg and Hamilton. With both of them being the worst sort of entitled suburbanite, they get into screaming arguments with each other at the drop of a hat (or a dog toy).
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Trevor Beckwith, the prim and properly British co-host to Buck Laughlin, the misplaced athlete.
    Buck: "Am I nuts? Something's wrong with his feet."
    Trevor: "I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but you're right."
  • Big Damn Kiss: Christy and Sheri Ann share one after Rhapsody In White wins best of her group.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with the Swans talking to a therapist about their problems with their dog.
  • Brick Joke: Gerry's literal two left feet.
  • Brutal Honesty: In a scene where Christy is discussing the new kennel facility funded by Sherri Ann, she gently refers to the older one being less than ideal, but Sherri Ann chimes in with "It was a shitbox."
  • Butch Lesbian: Christy wears her hair short and dresses in masculine clothing. Buck mistakes her for a man during the show. She was also so uncomfortable with the elaborate eye makeup that Sherri Ann gave her that she removed it before the show, causing some tension between them. Not surprisingly, the female dog she's rearing is called Butch.
  • Camp Gay: Scott Donlan, who makes inneundo jokes and dresses flashy, including an embroidered suit compared to a doorman and a multitude of kimonos for a short hotel stay. By contrast, his partner Stefan is more of a Straight Gay.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The scene in the Taft Hotel's utility closet seems unmotivated until Cookie and Gerry are later housed there when they can't get a room.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Harlan Pepper is an upbeat redneck who seems to believe listing nuts counts as a talent. Though truth be told, all of the featured characters have varying degrees of cuckoolandedness.
  • Cringe Comedy: The film runs quite a bit on this, with its characters being embarrassing without realizing it.
    • Harlan Pepper isn't a very good ventriloquist, so the scenes of him performing it are framed as a bit pathetic.
    • Cookie and Gerry Fleck are generally a bit out of touch with what's cool, framing them akin to embarrasing parents (Cookie even calls Gerry "Mr. Hip", a name that contradicts itself to the audience) and have tension due to Cookie's extensive sexual history coming up to meet her everywhere she goes.
    • Meg and Hamilton Swan are absolutely neurotic people with bizarre logic, and their scenes frame them as hilariously strange and morally abhorrent entitled people who don't know what they want and make everyone miserable, including themselves.
    • Buck Laughlin is horribly out-of-place in a dog show, both in terms of knowledge and professional decorum, placing him as a laughable buffoon next to his expert co-host Trevor Beckwith.
  • Cuckoolander Commentator: Buck Laughlin, the ex-football player announcer, who knows nothing about dog shows and whose boisterous commentary adds an unusual flavor to the proceedings.
  • The Dandy: Scott Donlan, who is always elaborately dressed, hand-makes his own leather pants, and packs seven kimonos for an overnight trip, adding one to his suitcase when reminded of the short duration of the stay. His partner Stefan is also similarly stylish, but less attention is placed on it.
    Buck: "Look at Scott! ...if you live in my neighborhood and you're dressed like that, you'd better be a hotel doorman."
  • Dark Horse Victory: Everyone is surprised when Gerry despite his lefthanded feet manages to complete the final rounds with Winky and wins with Winky's sincerity. Even he thought that he wouldn't stand a chance without Cookie.
  • The Ditz: Buck Laughlin, a sports commentator more familiar with football and at sea in the context of dogs and dog shows, at least. This is doubled by the fact that he's apparently hosted this dog show at least once before and yet has retained nothing from it. He's also a bit vapid in other areas, such as when he confuses Christopher Columbus' 1492 landing in the Caribbean with the Pilgrim migration to Massachusetts.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: In her search for Beatrice's missing dog toy, Meg screams threats of INS and deportation at the hotel's Hispanic maid.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The competitors help out Cookie when she twists her ankle.
  • Friendly Enemy: Despite the sometimes bitter and catty rivalry they show throughout the film the other handlers immediately help Gerry when he's spontaneously thrust into the role of handler when Cookie twists her ankle. We also see Scott exchange congratulatory kisses and hugs from the runners up in his toy dog category.
  • Gallows Humor: Max’s monologue about a suicide victim who got decapitated during the jump.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Occurs right before the final judging of the Dog Show when Cookie falls and injures her knee, requiring Gerry to take her place as Winky's handler.
  • Giftedly Bad:
    • The Flecks, who compose and sing songs about terriers to their dog Winky. What they lack in talent they make up for in obliviousness.
    • Harlan Pepper's ventriloquism act.
  • Graceful Loser:
    • While Christy and Sherri Ann are a little bummed they lost, they take it in stride because the competition made them realize they found each other. Sherri Ann divorces her wealthy husband and decides to sponsor a magazine called American Bitch for the demographic of "lesbian purebred dog owners", looking truly happy with Christy.
    • Harlan Pepper also doesn't mind that he lost, deciding to perform community service entertainment at senior centers. While he's not that good, he seems happy.
  • Happily Married: Cookie and Gerry genuinely love each other and are happy together. While Cookie's had an unknowable amount of past flings who recognize her and make Gerry jealous, she never looks their way.
  • Hate Sink: Most of the less sympathetic competitors each reveal themselves to have more likeable traits by the end of the film (Sherri Ann, Christy, Scott, and Stefan all prove to genuinely care about their respective significant other and are amicable toward their underdog rivals). The Swans, however, are never suggested to be anything more than the insufferable yuppie couple they are introduced as, with Meg even displaying a bit of racism in her mistreatment of a hotel maid, and it's painfully clear from the start that the two use their poor dog as a distraction from their shaky marriage. Naturally, they are the only ones to not advance to the finals of the dog show, instead getting eliminated in the first round, but in the end, they still offload their troubles on their dog and "move forward" by replacing her rather than addressing the likely more substantial issues at fault.
  • Hidden Depths: It's made pretty clear that, to varying degrees, each of the couples has thrown themselves whole-heartedly into the dog show and training their dog as a way of compensating for or avoiding some other tension or problem in their lives.
  • Improv: Guest has his actors improv from general outlines; where the scene starts and where it needs to get to is fixed, but the rest is up to the actors.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Scott and Stefan are both very catty, particularly toward Sherri Ann and Christy, but reveal themselves to be surprisingly cordial when interacting with the Flecks. To a lesser extent, Sherri Ann and Christy also come across as polite and respectful toward their rivals during the competition after having spent most of the movie to that point seeming rather cold and haughty, and they all come in to help Gerry out when he has to sub in for Cookie at the last minute.
  • Kick the Dog: Meg’s racist tirade at the hotel maid genuinely trying to help makes her unpleasant persona even worse.
  • Ladykiller in Love:
    • Cookie is the female version. She can't go anywhere without bumping into someone she's had sex with, but she settled down and married a goofy, straight-laced guy, whom she seems to genuinely love.
    • Scott is more of a gentleman killer, saying he was the “big man on campus” before getting together with Stefan.
  • Large-Ham Announcer: They make the dog show even funnier, as they're an Odd Couple - one a genteel English dog-breeding expert and the other a desperately misplaced American Football commentator.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Sherri Ann, as revealed when she and Christy passionately kiss.
  • Literal Metaphor: In their first interview Cookie and Gerry joke about his inability to dance and mention his "two left feet." Not to say he's bad at dancing — the camera pans down to show that Gerry has two left feet. He used to walk in circles when he was a kid.
  • Mockumentary: It is a Christopher Guest film, after all.
  • Never Heard That One Before:
    Buck: I couldn't get used to being probed and prodded. I told my proctologist once: "Why don't you take me out to dinner and a movie sometime?"
    Trevor: (unamused) Yes. I remember you said that last year.
  • Nice Guy: The Taft manager is endlessly patient and kind to everyone, including letting Gerry and Cookie stay in a utility closet he has the staff make more comfortable when their cards are declined and taking it on the chin when Meg yells in his face.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The hotel manager (Ed Begley Jr.), when discussing the difficulties cleaning up after a dog show, mentions an unnamed rock band (probably a Spinal Tap reference). Details are sparse, and include only the comment that "they probably didn't realize there was a toilet in the room", as well as something about "roasting a goat," and how hard it was to get the smell of charcoal and cumin out of the curtains.
    • Frequent un-elaborated-upon references to Cookie Fleck's past sexual history as she coincidentally encounters numerous former partners.
      "That was my first and only time doing it on a roller coaster!"
    • Scott and Stefan occasionally fall into this when hinting at their personal escapades.
  • Not Hyperbole: When Gerry and Cookie recount how they first met, Gerry said he told Cookie that he couldn't dance because he has "two left feet", and Cookie said she thought he was kidding. It turns out that Gerry was actually born with two left feet (with the camera panning down to show that his feet do both face left), and he mentions having to learn how to stop walking in circles while growing up.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Buck Laughlin bears more than a passing resemblance to Joe Garagiola, the baseball player-turned-announcer who provided commentary for the USA Network's coverage of the Westminster Kennel Club Show for many years.
    • Sherri Ann Cabot is obviously based on Anna Nicole Smith.
  • Only Sane Man: Trevor Beckwith is a well-mannered gentleman and accredited expert on dogs whose commentary during the dog show is filled with sound observations and accurate predictions. He provides a sharp contrast to his co-host Buck Laughlin, whose bizarre asides he unsuccessfully attempts to keep to a minimum.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: American Bitch Magazine, the magazine for Lesbian purebred dog owners.
  • Pet Contest Episode: The premise of the movie.
  • Really Gets Around: Cookie Fleck, before she married Gerry. To his suppressed but obvious frustration, they keep meeting her former partners wherever they go.
    • Scott at least hints at this trope, as he doesn't hesitate to ogle or flirt with anyone who catches his eye, despite being in a relationship with his partner Stefan.
      Hotel Manager: "We have you down for a queen [bed]."
      Scott: "What are you suggesting... my dear man?"
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Catty Camp Gay Scott and snarky Straight Gay Stefan, respectively.
  • The Rival: While all of the characters are in competition with each other, the duos of Scott and Stefan and Christy and Sherri Ann appear to have some kind of personal animosity. Christy and Sherri Ann are the returning champions while Scott and Stefan also have experience in competitive dog shows, so it's likely that they see the other couple as the pair to beat. Both pairs turn out to be gay couples by the end as well, drawing a parallel between them.
  • Running Gag: Many of them, the most notable likely being Cookie's seemingly endless deluge of ex-boyfriends and Gerry's bewildered reaction to learning about them.
  • Serious Business: The Mayflower show is as serious as it gets.
    • The Swans, in particular, take the well-being of their dog Beatrice very seriously. Perhaps too seriously—their neuroticism about the dog's well-being is precisely what causes stress to the dog and makes her unstable.
  • Shown Their Work: Jim Piddock (Trevor Beckwith) was instructed to deeply research dog shows to play his character, to the point where he was mistaken for an actual show dog expert. (Fred Willard, on the other hand, was specifically told to do none.)
  • Smarmy Host: Buck Laughlin fits this trope to a T, complete with inappropriately unfunny jokes, rambling tangents, and zero understanding of the dog show he's supposed to be covering.
    Buck: "Excuse me if this off the subject a little bit, but just take a guess at how much I can bench press."
  • Southern Gentleman: Harlan Pepper is a modern-day example of one (and a lot more sympathetic than most examples of the trope).
  • Spiritual Successor: To Guest's previous Mockumentary, Waiting for Guffman.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone:
    • While Harlan Pepper and Hubert, who are presented as being just as much of likable underdogs as the Flecks and Winky are, fail to win the dog show, Trevor Beckwith notes that Hubert is likely to become a champion if given a few more years to mature.
    • After their humiliating loss at the dog show, the Swans finally seem to have made amends with each other through couple's therapy. They also have a new dog, suggesting that poor Beatrice was able to find a home away from them, even if she might have been unproductively blamed for the Swans' troubles.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Masculine professional dog trainer Christy and ditzy Trophy Wife Sherri Ann, respectively. One scene emphasizes the contrast by showing them discussing how Sherri Ann had attempted to re-style Christy. Christy says the makeup looked freakish and she took it off, but she likes the weird spiky hair Sherri Ann gave her and is still wearing it in the scene.
  • Too Much Information: Gerry is often subjected to this when one of Cookie's old boyfriends starts recounting their past amorous adventures. At one point he tries to flip it around in frustration by asking if it would be okay to compliment Cookie's ex's wife's "luscious melon breasts" after the ex starts hitting on Cookie. It doesn't solve the argument, but a quick shot shows that the wife is genuinely flattered by the comment.
  • Trophy Wife: Sherri Ann Cabot is a spoof example in the Gold Digger vein, and, unusually, is cheating with another woman, not a man.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: After the competition, the movie ends with a series of scenes set six months later to show what each of the participants are up to now.
    • Gerry and Cookie become celebrities in their hometown for Winky's victory, receiving the key to the city from the mayor and getting their picture in the newspaper. While recording an album for songs about terriers, they find out their recording engineer is yet another of Cookie's ex-lovers.
    • Sherri Ann and Christy are now openly in a relationship, with the former having apparently divorced Leslie, and are now publishing a magazine dedicated to lesbian dog owners.
    • Harlan isn't too bummed about losing and decides to fulfill his dream of being a ventriloquist by performing at senior centers. He's not that good at it, but at least he's happy.
    • Stefan and Scott decide to design a dog calendar with Shih Tzus reenacting scenes from classic films like Gone with the Wind and Casablanca.
    • Meg and Hamilton are visibly happier now after replacing Beatrice with a pug named Kipper, claiming he enjoys watching them have sex while failing to realize that their behavior was the reason Beatrice was so stressed in the first place.