Saturday, January 28, 2006

Picked Flick #62: Best in Show

Sometimes you see a movie in the theater and you like it okay, but you wouldn't consider seeing it twice, except that your friend hasn't seen it yet and you're happy to go along. For whatever reason, you like it better and laugh much harder than you did the first time. Then you actively anticipate the video or DVD release, more avidly than you are awaiting movies that you enjoyed or admired much more. Then you watch the movie repeatedly, incessantly—why does it keep getting funnier? In ten years, I've had this experience twice, the first time with Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, and then with Christopher Guest's Best in Show. How do you account for humor, even your own taste in it, your own laughter? I have no idea how I sat through my first screening of Mars Attacks! and only laughed once—and that because Sarah Jessica Parker's chihuahua wouldn't stop barking at Michael J. Fox over breakfast. I am, apparently, a groundling. Nor can I say anything illuminating or precise about why I roar through that movie now, why the simple, never-changing "ack ack" of the aliens is enough to set me off.

The case of Best in Show is even odder to me, because it doesn't, like Burton's film, require any stylistic acclimation, and its comedy emerges much more through conventional means like one-liners and parodic personalities than, as in the Burton, through camp reenactment and sustained eccentricity. I read my original review of Best in Show now and, though I still wonder about the film's allegiance to mockumentary and am well aware of the jokes that don't score, I can't figure out what the hell I was being so stingy about. I probably quote Best in Show more often than any other movie I've seen, save three or four, but you wouldn't know it from my frugal little write-up. But I don't think I was just being a stick-in-the-mud. I am not a flip-flopper, though I might occasionally be blind and deaf. I can't believe how many of my favorite moments I didn't fully appreciate or even notice until the third or fourth go-round, like when John Michael Higgins' Scott looks at Jane Lynch's desperately primped dog handler Christy Cummings and expertly sizes her up as looking "like a cocktail waitress on an oil rig," or Higgins and Michael McKean having the world's most politely submerged argument about over-packing a suitcase, or Catherine O'Hara's perplexed look at husband Eugene Levy when he tries to avert a credit-card disaster by paying with traveler's checks, even though they don't have any.

But most of what I love about the movie are the jokes I liked to begin with, which have proven uncannily memorable, and bizarrely applicable in more situations than you'd think, and wonderfully convivial, too, because everyone seems to love this movie. Jennifer Coolidge's ditzy deadpan is just as funny when she says something demented ("So I'm just waiting, until I get another message...from myself" or "Those act as flippers") as when she runs rough-shod over the feelings of her eventual lover, Christy, of whose privately owned, proudly assembled kennel she sharply reminisces, "It was a shitbox." On repeat viewings, you learn how to live with the extreme stress inducements of Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, and you can simply enjoy their brilliance at ratcheting up the neurotic hysteria. The two words "Busy Bee" can make me lose it in public places, thinking about Posey's fearsome dressing-down of Ed Begley Jr.'s head concierge as well as the toy store employee, and of the wild swoops of her caftans when she erupts into one of her fits, and of how she alternates being pressure-cooked inside a mean helmet of hair and tying it back with a head scarf because even her hair drives her crazy. Fred Willard is more than inspired as the fatuous commentator at the dog show, but the more you watch, you further appreciate Jim Piddock's comparable knack at playing the slow burn of the affronted expert. Levy and O'Hara's couplehood isn't quite as rich as in A Mighty Wind, burdened as they are with that laborious business of her multiple ex-boyfriends, but I'll still watch O'Hara do anything, and her costume designs are terrific, and the sweetness in their rapport serves the movie eautifully. Improv comedians could learn quite a bit from this movie, including how not to flee from feeling.

Oh, and the best dog wins. Isn't that a peach? (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

N - I always get strange looks when I say that I LOVE "Best in Show." I am very relieved that you're on the same page as me:)
xoxo - jenn

12:50 PM, January 29, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

Four words. We both love soup.

4:47 PM, January 29, 2006  
Blogger par3182 said...

"it was a shitbox" - priceless.

2:29 AM, January 30, 2006  

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