It's an improvisational comedy film from the people who did This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. Very deadpan, kind of cringe-making and highly praised.
It's about a dog show and some of the freaky dog maniacs who go in for them. People who really do dog shows and know that world apparently love this movie, which gives it extra points in my book. Its story isn't plot-driven, but instead is a mockumentary in which the owners of five dogs are interviewed in the run-up to the competition and then filmed during it. These people are:
1. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, whose personal issues include the hundreds of men O'Hara says she slept with before marrying Levy. They're nice enough, except when Levy's being jealous, but kind of embarrassing to watch. They love their terrier so much that they sing songs about it, for instance. In public.
2. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, who are the biggest freaks in the movie. They're a yuppie lawyer couple, obsessive, neurotic and liable to scream at random strangers or each other. They take their dog to a psychotherapist because they think he became disturbed after seeing them having sex... instead of, say, being disturbed because he was in their presence for more than ten seconds. They're a walking, talking, worryingly buttoned-up definition of the word "dysfunctional".
3. Christopher Guest, an adorably boring redneck who thinks he's got the best bloodhound in the world and can talk all day about fishing.
4. Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch, although they're not technically a couple. Coolidge is the collagen-enhanced trophy wife of an ancient millionaire who never shows signs of sentience and has the face of a Muppet, while Lynch is a two-time winner of this dog show. They're running the event, basically, although Lynch is also a competitor.
5. John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, a middle-aged gay couple who love to flounce and have a Shih Tzu.
The movie is basically these people talking. Sometimes they're talking to camera, or sometimes to each other. This is dry, frequently uncomfortable and funny in a way that doesn't make you laugh, if that makes sense. You might cringe, though. You can also tell it's improvised because of bits like the throwaway line about Levy having two left feet, which the actors decide on the spot is literally true and so the film does too. I must admit, I once watched This Is Spinal Tap and decided it wasn't quite for me, but I can tell that the same kind of deadpan humour is at work here too, and at just as high a quality level.
The writer-director is Christopher Guest, who's American but holds a British peerage and used to sit in the House of Lords. As well as having written and acted in all of the aforementioned films, he's also been in the likes of Death Wish, The Princess Bride and Little Shop of Horrors. He sounds cool. Here he plays the bloodhound-owning redneck and does really well at it, being of all the actors here, the one I'd most like to follow to see in other things. What's particularly impressive is that his interviews here are monologues, while everyone else is part of a screen couple and has another actor to bounce off.
Meanwhile his co-writer is Levy, who again is one of the main actors. They've been working together for ages, often using the same repertory company of actors in their improvisational comedies. In case you're wondering where you've heard of Levy before, he's the only actor to have appeared in all eight American Pie movies (including the straight-to-DVD ones), as Jim's dad. Don't let that fool you into thinking he's not exceptionally good, though.
Oh, and I forgot:
6. Fred Willard as a crass TV host with little interest in dogs, co-commentating on the event with a dog expert (Jim Piddock). Ouch, again.
This is a very simple film. It's a mockumentary, but it's not drawing attention to the fact and it keeps its in-fiction production team firmly out of the way. The format is merely a way of doing a film that's built around conversations with dog-loving freaks, which is more interesting than that sounds. It doesn't have much narrative, but it doesn't need it. Personally, I have to admit that I wasn't blown away as much as you might expect. It's strong, but I can see that it's something that's going to appeal to some other people more than it did to me. Guest has made a few films like this, which as far as I can tell sound as if they've been getting ever more subtle and honest, perhaps at the price of arguably getting less funny. Waiting for Guffman is apparently broader, while A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration apparently have more serious undercurrents.
Premiere voted this movie as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006, though. Regardless of my personal reaction, I'd never dream of denying that it's an impressive and highly individual piece of work.