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Viewer Guide: Best in Show and Beatriz at Dinner

February 26, 2021 | Richard Peña


Best in Show (2000)

This week’s classic is Best in Show, the tongue-in-cheek “mockumentary” comedy from 2000, directed by Christopher Guest.

Best in Show remains one of the most memorable examples of the “mockumentary” genre, providing an unflinchingly faux cinema verité look into the ruthless, high stakes world of competitive dog shows. While all the canines involved comport themselves with complete professionalism, sadly the same cannot be said of their eccentric owners, an oddball collection of delightfully outlandish characters including Meg and Hamilton Swan, played by Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, whose extreme concern for the psychological well-being of their Weimaraner ‘Beatrice’ only serves to reveal their own neuroses; Harlan Pepper, played by writer-director Christopher Guest, a Southern fishing store owner and would-be ventriloquist with an unshakeable conviction that his Bloodhound ‘Hubert’ will win the day; Gerry and Cookie Fleck, played by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, whose mutual dedication to their Norwich Terrier ‘Winky’ is often complicated by Cookie’s old boyfriends and Gerry’s two left feet; Sherri Ann and Leslie Ward Cabot, a wealthy May-December couple played by Jennifer Coolidge and Patrick Cranshaw, whose track record as two-time winners with their Standard Poodle ‘Rhapsody in White’ can’t disguise Sherri Ann’s trophy wife status, as well as her unusually intimate involvement with their trainer Christy Cummings, played by Jane Lynch; and last but definitely not least, Scott Donlan and Stefan Vanderhoof, the flamboyant gay couple played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, whose passion for classic movies sometimes shows in their costume choices for their Shih Tzu, ‘Miss Agnes.’

And if that isn’t enough quirkiness for one comedy, also on hand are Ed Begley Jr. and Bob Balaban, as well as Fred Willard as a loose canon TV commentator.

 While the fake documentary or “mockumentary” genre has roots dating back to Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 radio broadcast The War of the Worlds, the comic form of the genre has steadily increased in popularity since the 1984 release of This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner and featuring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer as members of a fictitious heavy metal rock group. Christopher Guest has gone on to become a prolific auteur of the genre, working with his frequent writing partner Eugene Levy and an unofficial company of recurring cast members to devise scripts that are largely improvised, satirizing a wide world of eccentricity with Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. In 2016, Guest directed Mascots, a quirky look at a competition for sports mascots, briefly reprising his famous “Corky St. Clair” character from Waiting for Guffman. And as the conventional TV sitcom format began to wane in popularity, the mockumentary has become an offbeat alternative genre for many hit series including Arrested Development, Modern Family and the blockbuster success, The Office.


From left: Salma Hayek and Jay Duplass in the 2017 film BEATRIZ AT DINNER, directed by Miguel Arteta.

This week’s indie is Beatriz at Dinner, a dark comedy-drama from 2017, written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta.

Salma Hayek stars as Beatriz Luna, a Los Angeles massage therapist who also provides holistic treatments for patients at an alternative healing center. A sensitive and spiritual person with a houseful of pets—including goats—Beatriz looks like she could benefit from one of her own massages, but has one final house call before her day is done. Arriving at the palatial home of Kathy Birkhofer, a well to do client played by Connie Britton, Beatriz notices that preparations are underway for a special dinner party. While Beatriz and Kathy are clearly from utterly different backgrounds, the two women have bonded after Beatriz’s therapeutic help with Kathy’s teenaged daughter. But when Beatriz is about to drive home, her car won’t start, prompting Kathy to invite Beatriz to stay for dinner until a friend can pick her up. As the other guests stream in—and mistake her for hired help—Beatriz attempts to fit into the party, a celebratory dinner for Doug Strutt, a business partner of Kathy’s husband, played by John Lithgow. But as the evening goes on, the cultural chasm between Beatriz and the others only seems to deepen, along with Beatriz’s certainty that she has encountered Doug somewhere else before.

Also featured in supporting roles are David Warshofsky as Kathy’s husband and Amy Landecker as Doug’s current wife, with Chloë Sevigny and Jay Duplass rounding out the guest list.

Although produced prior to the 2016 election, Beatriz at Dinner uncannily anticipated the steadily increasing polarization of values in American society. Like her character Beatriz, Hayek is an animal lover herself, who estimates to have approximately fifty pets on her Washington state ranch. Earlier in 2016, Hayek reported on Instagram that one of her dogs had been found dead, shot by a neighbor after escaping from a caretaker’s supervision and allegedly fighting with other dogs on the neighbor’s property. This traumatic incident was eventually was incorporated into the narrative of Mike White’s prescient screenplay for the film.

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