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Movie Review: Best in Show

By Mike Everleth ⋅ September 29, 2000

I guess it was a couple months ago that I forced myself to stop reading novels. I decided that there’s too much out there in the world for me to learn so I had better get off my duff and start “edjamacatin'” myself. I’m not a very smart person (ya know, not sure how people are going to take that statement, either with a “Don’t be so modest, mikE” or “No shit, jerk-off).

There might be a novel that I’ll come across here and there that I might allow myself to read, but I haven’t since I convinced myself to read only non-fiction. But also, I haven’t cut fiction entirely out of my life. I still read a plethora of comic books and, though I do see lots of documentaries, most of the films I go to are fictional in nature. However, a comic book takes about 15 minutes to read and a movie is about 2 hours. It takes me several hours and days to get through an entire book, so if I’m going to get involved in one I want something more than to be just “entertained”.

So, since I’ve been in this “non-fictional” mode lately, I’ve been pondering the whole notion of fiction as escapist entertainment, particularly as it pertains to movies. The main thing I’ve been questioning is why is there such a sharp separation between “documentaries” and “fictional films”. I mean, hopefully a good documentary is entertaining, but I think the main point of watching them is to learn something new. But why do so few fictional films try to educate as well as learn? Is Hollywood right in that people go to the movies mostly to escape their humdrum existence and shun any reference to reality?

That can’t be entirely true. The other weekend I finally rented ERIN BROCKOVICH. I avoided this film in the theaters mainly because I had never seen Julia Roberts in anything that I liked. However, I was torn at the time because the film was directed by one of my absolute favorite directors: Steven Soderbergh. He’s done SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE, THE UNDERNEATH, GRAY’S ANATOMY and, unfortunately, OUT OF SIGHT. OUT OF SIGHT was the only film of his I hated, but after that flick he totally redeemed himself with the outstanding THE LIMEY. But as much as I loved Steven, the thought of watching Julia Roberts on the big screen was enough to scare me away.

The other thing that scared me away from ERIN BROCKOVICH was that it was a big hit. It was a big sleeper hit that got great reviews and made a ton of money. So, in mikE’s warped way of thinking, if the movie made a lot of money then I was sure I wouldn’t like it. I don’t think I’m necessarily a snob for thinking this way, but sometimes it does seem that the only things I like are the things that everybody else hates. Regardless of all this over-analyzing, I should have trusted Steven and gone to see BROCKOVICH. It was a really great movie and probably the only film in which Julia Roberts actually acts.

ERIN BROCKOVICH is based on a true story about a woman who discovers that a power company has been poisoning and giving people cancer for years. Now here’s why I say I’m not a smart person. I don’t remember the name of the power company, nor the name of the chemical that gave everybody cancer, nor do I remember where the movie even takes place (I think California). So, it’s questionable if I did “learn” something from this movie, but I think this movie is a good example of a film that can entertain as well as educate. Not only is the film a great suspense mystery, but there’s some good dramatic, soap opera-y stuff in there with Erin and her kids and her lover played by Aaron Eckhardt.

On to BEST OF SHOW, then, I guess. This is another mock-documentary written and directed by Christopher Guest and starring most of the cast from his earlier film WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (including Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Guest himself). BEST OF SHOW is a comedy about the participants of an annual dog show in Philadelphia.

Did I learn anything about dogs by watching this movie? Not that I can think of. I did learn about what actually happens at a dog show and how the dogs actually compete and stuff, but I probably could have learned that from watching a real dog show.

The book MOBY DICK, as most everyone knows, is an adventure story about a maniacal ship captain hunting a white whale. But if you haven’t actually read the book, what you might not know is that it includes several detailed chapters about whaling. It’s like every couple chapters the story actually ends and the book is transformed into a straightforward account and explanation of what whaling was like in the 1800s.

I don’t know if it would have helped BEST OF SHOW if Christopher Guest included some educational bits about dogs. If he had, it probably would have dragged the film down. But it could have also made the film a little more endearing if we were to care about the dogs as much as we were supposed to about the characters. The dogs are almost incidental to the film.

It’s a really funny movie, however. And Fred Willard, playing an oafish announcer at the dog show is probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It’s classic.

Finally, since I did mention comic books earlier, if you want to read an absolutely fascinating, entertaining and educational graphic novel about bees, I recommend CLAN APIS by Jay Hosler. CLAN APIS tells the story of the entire life span of a little worker bee named Nyuki (which is Swahili for “bee”). I should have learned this shit when I was in grade school, but Jay makes a really absorbing read out of some simple facts about bees. When I showed the graphic novel to a friend of mine, he said “Oh, it’s like a parable about the hive mentality.” No. It’s literally a story about what it’s like about being a bee.

If yer interested in CLAN APIS, you can find out more about it at Jay’s website.