Fact of laughs #157: dressing up dogs in people-flavoured clothes is funny. So perhaps it's no surprise to see that Best In Show - a comedy about canine obsessives whose puppy love borders on unrequited bestiality - gets a cheap, heaving splutter out of dressing up a Shih-Tzu as Scarlett O'Hara. So far, so predictable, but, to its credit, the movie holds back its most obvious joke until the final five minutes, by which time it's clear that this isn't really a comedy about dogs at all. It's a comedy about people who use their pets as yapping vessels for their own doubtful ambitions.
Christopher Guest first mined laughs out of the documentary format in front of the camera in the over-seen This Is Spinal Tap and behind it in the never-seen Waiting For Guffman. Given our generation's TV-literacy and thirst for docusoaps and reality-slop, it's a canny genre ripe for the warping, and on the evidence of Best In Show, Guest has become a master at it. It takes a crafty talent to spoof the cinematic language of documentaries while at the same time pulling gut-shudders and credible, "real" performances out of yourcast, and The Artist Formerly Known As Nigel Tufnel comes out laughing. You will too.
Much like the glam buffoons of Spinal Tap, the ensemble ingredients may be neurotic-meets-fuckwit, but the characters here are so fully drawn that even the seemingly irredeemable (notably Jennifer Coolidge's memorable melding of Anna Nicole Smith and Undead Avon Lady) come out likeable. And while the improvised dialogue is rich and ridiculous, it's this generosity of spirit that marks out Best In Show as unique. In a current comedyscape dominated by cold-blooded laughter and lazy limbos below the taste barrier, it's a joy to see a truly hilarious comedy that balances its laugh-ats with its laugh-withs and races to the finale with hardly any profanities quacking from its characters' mouths.
Of course, as with all comedies, walking in cold guarantees the fiercest laughs, so giving away the punchlines would be churlish... But keep a spare rib handy for Guest's monologue on nuts that threatens to eclipse his infamous "up to 11" riff. And as for Fred Willard's non-sequitur-spouting commentator ("To think in some countries, these dogs are eaten"), paired with Jim Piddock's exasperated English pundit, he makes Alan Partridge sound like Albert Einstein. Like the movie itself, there's a warped genius lurking behind Buck's stupidity, and if there's a funnier movie this year, this reviewer will eat a rottweiler.
The only problem with seeing this on the big screen is that your cinema seat won't be fitted with a rewind facility to catch all the jokes. Waggish, smart and bark-out loud funny, this is classic comedy... This, in fact, Is Spinal Yap.