…and the quest to see everything

Archive for June 8, 2012

America gone to the dogs

Sure, Jane Lynch is a national treasure but Fred Willard‘s character’s ignorant commentary in Best in Show makes me realize what all the fuss about him is. He keeps comparing Mayflower Kennel Club Show, a fictionalized equivalent of the Westminster Kennel Club, to ‘real’ sports. He even manages to slide in bench press and proctologist jokes. But his character does kind of have a good point – what can anyone say about this tension-free contest? He’s the coffee jolt that’s absent in real-life dog shows.

The only other movies I can compare this with is This is Spinal Tap!, starring Christopher Guest, and Waiting for Guffman, also starring and directed by Guest. Spinal Tap is the masculine version of campy so we don’t take it seriously. But unlike Guffman, providing a softer landing to killing a man’s artistic dreams, this movie is the missing link between the two – it’s ugly yet that quality complements its characters’ less than devastating fates.

What both movies have in common is its spotlight on middle Americana, Guffman having a well-intentioned yet terribly written musical and Best in Show having its animal competition. They prove that yes, middle America does have a culture although let’s face is, they show it a bit negatively. Best in Show’s cast is filled with regular-looking middle-aged people who make a big deal out of its dog shows. Cookie Fleck (Catherine O’Hara) tells her husband Gerry (Eugene Levy) that their little Norwich Terrier has worked two and a half years to be the titular best in show.

The last twenty-five minutes show the characters competing in a national level in the Mayflower. The camerawork portraying this contest is, with its equal slices of wide shots and close-ups, more choreographed than most hand-held ‘documentaries,’ showing off its true mockumentary colours.

Gerry unwittingly is the last-minute entry to the contest, doing it for his wife-with-a-heavy-sexual-history and his terrier. The size metaphoric of his personality chances the same way the other dogs are to their owners. He walks as opposed to running like the other contestants do, but his terrier is the show’s unlikely winner. All but one contestant/supporter are classy about the judges’ decisions but in the movie’s epilogue, a ‘where are they now sequence,’ the other contestants are so nasty to him, the judges and the result, especially Lynch’s character. If they’re not nasty, they’re shown in borderline stereotypes, especially that of the sexual strain. The ‘gay ones’ (John Michael Higgins and Spinal Tap co-alum Michael McKean) are unthreateningly effete and bejewelled and are shooting a tacky calendar that reproduces scenes in classic movies but with dogs, including their own primped up shih tzu! The ‘lesbian couple’ (including Lynch) replicates projections of archetypal dynamics between their heterosexual counterparts, one is angrier, butchier and is more lustful and the other is more feminine and distant. The straight couple (including Parker Posey) need shrinks to analyze their boring sex lives. These characters would be fully offensive if it wasn’t for the decision to depict them in exclamation points. And if they and the actors portraying them weren’t as funny as they constantly are.

Americans love competitions big or small and I realized how strange that tendency is specifically because they’re ‘number one.’ In a way it feels like this strain comes from compensation, creating these arena events and art-craft mediums that are closer to their old world counterparts than they think.