After watching director Darren Aronofsky's outstanding (but extremely bleak and depressing "Requiem For A Dream" 3 times back to back (feature + 2 commentaries), I needed a comedy. Badly. Thankfully, "Best In Show" arrived - a film that I missed in theaters, but certainly wanted to catch. Director Christopher Guest's wonderful documentary (or more like mockumentary) focuses on the hopeful contestants of a massive dog show as well as their goofy human owners.
The story is simple and I can't be thankful enough to Guest that he only goes for 91 minutes, mainly delivering the best material and knowing when to step off the stage and tell the audience goodnight. This is something badly lacking from several recent comedy features. "Show" follows several groups to the Mayflower Kennel dog show in Philadelphia, and it's a credit to guest that he's able to give each character an equal amount of time. First there's Hamilton and Meg Swan (Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey), a young couple who discuss how they met at a Starbucks; hairdressers Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins) and Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean); Gerry and Cookie Fleck (SCTV vets Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), a husband and wife team whose husband actually has two left feet. There's also bait store owner Harlan Pepper(Guest) and rich wife (Jennifer Coolidge, who many may remember from "American Pie"). All of the characters are especially funny during the introduction sequences, and although I do like that the film was kept short and sweet, extentions on these scenes would have been nice.
The characters reach the competition, and the story then bounces between the worries and nerves of each of the owners (look for a particularly hilarious breakdown when Posey's character forgot the dogs toy at the hotel room). I've never understood these dog show folks, myself. Yes, some of them have put a great deal of work and time and money into the grooming of their dog, but I doubt the dog is thinking about anything but when they're going to receive their next meal. Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy perfectly play the characters, exaggerating their almost insane caring for their animals, but the performers are smart enough to keep them from going over the top and adding enough detail for them to feel real. As unusually bad as Posey was in the awful "Josie and the Pussycats", she's back in fine form here.
If I have any complaints about the picture, it's that the actual competition scenes aren't that funny - the movie really isn't about the show as much as the people, I suppose. The gag during these scenes is to have an American host (Fred Willard) who doesn't really know what's going on but talks constantly paired up with a British host who is an expert on shows. It's the only gag in the movie that I really felt was funny for a moment, but really started to get very annoying.
Other than that, I really liked "Best In Show". Again, Guest thankfully hits the right notes for 91 minutes and knows when to go out on a high point. "Show" is a very funny film that's got some great performances - it's a great effort from Guest and cast.
VIDEO: Before viewers become upset about the image quality of "Best In Show", let me say that the film was shot in 16mm (see recent features "Tigerland" and "Chasing Amy" for other 16mm productions), and this is probably the best I've seen a 16mm film look on DVD. As the picture was meant to resemble a documentary, that's why the 16mm format was chosen. Although I've heard varying things about how good (or not good) the image quality of the film was in theaters, on this DVD it actually looked very nice.
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it is anamorphic. Sharpness and detail are actually quite good, although there's a bit of softness to some of the interior sequences. There's some noticable grain throughout the picture, but it's not as visible as some 16mm films that I've reviewed on DVD, and during some scenes the grain is absent. A couple of very tiny instances of pixelation appeared, and a few stray instances of edge enhancement appeared, but neither of those flaws presented much of a distraction.
Colors appeared natural - there were some vibrant colors along the way, but the majority of the film has a realistic palette with no exaggeration. It's not going to present the same sort of smooth image as a film shot in 35mm, but it's about as good as 16mm can look.
SOUND: "Best In Show" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and although I always am happier with a 5.1 presentation, this film really didn't need one. It's essentially mono/dialogue-driven for 95% of the movie. There's some slight opening up for the score, but there's really no surround use that's noticable. Audio quality remained very nice throughout the picture - although the film often folded up to mono, all of the elements remained distinct and clear.
MENUS:: Although menus aren't animated, there is an "announcement" behind the main menu, which is a funny touch.
Commentary: This is a suprisingly low-key commentary from director/co-writer/actor Christopher Guest and co-writer/actor Eugene Levy. Although the two are occasionally amusing, they really stick to providing an informative discussion of what went on behind-the-scenes of the film, talking about working with the actors and making general comments scene-by-scene and pointing out details. Even some rather suprising details such as the braces Posey's character wears were actually real braces that she put on for the shoot. Personally, I wore them as a child and they're not fun - that's really getting into character.
The commentary has a few slow moments and pauses of silence, but overall, I found it to be a moderately informative and engaging look at the making of the movie, but I was suprised that the two seemed to take the commentary sort of seriously rather than having more fun with it. Still, it's worth a listen.
Deleted Scenes: This section provides about 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes, along with optional commentary from Guest and Levy. You can select scenes separately, but thankfully, Warner Brothers has given the "play all" option so you don't have to go back and forth to the menu. Many of these scenes are very, very funny and were cut mainly to keep the running time quick. They're definitely worth a look.
Also: Trailer, production notes & cast/crew bios.
Final Thoughts: "Best In Show" is a very funny film that most will probably want to watch over and over, and it's well presented on this very nice special edition DVD from Warner Brothers. Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Audio: 83/B = (332/400 possible points)
Extras: 84/B = (252/300 possible points)
Menus: 80/B- = (160/200 possible points)
Value: 85/B = (255/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B