Dog World Gives ‘Best in Show’ Two Paws Up


When trailers from Christopher Guest’s new mockumentary, “Best in Show,” revealed that the revered Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was his new target--even if it was given another name in the film--the dog world was on alert.

A stern set of critics--16 dog industry insiders--were contacted to judge how “Best in Show” handled the colorful, sometimes eccentric dog show world. After viewing advance screenings, they almost unanimously gave the film a blue ribbon--much to the surprise of some.

“I was really, really afraid it would show the dog world as corrupt,” said professional handler and Westminster veteran Corky Vroom, who is president of the professional dog handlers association. “It’s such a spoof there’s no way anyone can take it seriously. The eccentric personalities are so typical of the dog world. They could have taken it much further.”


Shaun Cohen of Dog News, the New York City-based trade weekly, was impressed that the movie did a “pretty good job of portraying a Westminster-like event accurately and legitimately.”

Guest’s movie follows five different dogs and their owners competing at the prestigious Mayflower dog show. Gerry and Cookie (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) sing songs to their Norwich terrier. Consumerly correct yuppie lawyers (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) are in therapy with their Weimaraner. Trophy wife Sherri (Jennifer Coolidge) finances kennel improvements for the handler (Jane Lynch) of her two-time best-in-show standard poodle. Hair salon owner Stefan and his dressed-to-impress professional handler partner (John Michael Higgins) show their well-coifed Shih Tzu. Humble fishing-tackle store owner Harlan (Guest) brings his convict-sniffing bloodhound.

Although Cohen and a few others thought the label-oriented lawyers weren’t credible, veteran handler Pam Amos agreed with the Vrooms. “I know those people. There’s a lot of yuppie scum.” She also recalled seeing “Billy Bobs competing in their overalls.”

Norwich breeder Peggy Blakely also recognized all the types. “The characters were well-researched and well-spoofed. You see the little social sleep-around ladies and the wealthy would-be glamour girls. The psychotic couple was classic. I’ve seen some down-and-out drag-out fights.”

Searching for a dog’s favorite toy, as depicted in the film, is all too common, according to Vroom. His wife, Susan, also a handler, recalled searching frantically for a frog toy before going ringside.

Norwich owner and handlers Ken Deutsch and Steven Douglas saw a bit of themselves in the film. Shih Tzu breeder Pamela Magette mentioned that Higgins’ character was in keeping with toy breed handlers who tend to be, as she puts it, “more flamboyant.”


Many instantly recognized Fred Willard’s mentally dense color commentator as a parody of USA Network’s Joe Garagiola, down to the red bow-tie and the recycled jokes. “He’s a wonderful man, but he’s out of his element,” Norwich terrier breeder David Powers said of Garagiola.

A Perfect Pedigree? Flaws Were Found

There was one vote of indognation. Lynda Foley, who watches the Westminster telecast religiously and hopes to show keeshonds soon, said that, although she laughed, she found the movie “mean spirited.”

“I have a great reverence for all these people who are teaching and mentoring me. The movie was mostly caricatures,” she said.

Even the 15 who howled with laughter found some faults. The Vrooms, Magette and Amos stated the poodle should have finished last because it carried its tail down. The Vrooms also noted that the dog was “stacked” incorrectly. Bloodhound handler, Dennis Slavin, wondered if a poodle person would really talk to a hound handler.

Some noted that the movie hotel, the Taft, was more in keeping with the one formerly used--also named the Taft--when the show was at the old Madison Square Garden. At the new garden location, dog-friendly hotels have been hard to find.

Many doubted an aggressive Weimaraner would have gotten to that level of competition. Weimaraner breeder and owner Kathy Weber was among a few who worried the movie would overexpose certain dog breeds and make them too popular. “ She was actually gratified it showed Weimaraners in a negative light.

Minor growls and grumbles aside, these judges found Guest closely matched the “highest possible standards” of a best-in-show winner, as the Westminster Kennel Club might put it. Declared Susan Vroom: “It’s an opportunity to laugh at ourselves, the largest dysfunctional family.”