FILMS THAT SHAPE US: Best In Show
I have imposter syndrome. Even writing this article. Especially writing this article. An article about films that shape us. A hard question to think about during such a difficult time in the world. Especially when the film that shaped me the most is a comedy.
I don’t remember the first time I watched Christopher Guest's 2000 mockumentary Best in Show because it’s been my favorite movie for as long as I can remember. I have seen it so many times that I can re-enact every scene by rote. The characters in this movie are all extremely confident in their (and their dogs) abilities to compete for, and win, the glorious title of Best in Show. All except Gerry Fleck, played by the inimitable Eugene Levy, who can't seem to understand how he got the beautiful life he has and his good fortune of marrying his wife Cookie, played by the equally inimitable Catherine O'Hara.
Gerry is a bumbling, left footed--literally, he has two left feet--softie who loves his dog Winky, his wife and is just happy to be wherever he is. Though he's momentarily flustered by the onslaught of men, including ex-lovers, who hit on his wife throughout the film, Gerry is always grateful and awestruck of the moments he finds himself in.
I often feel like a somewhat pessimistic version of Gerry in my adult life as a filmmaker. I'm always incredibly grateful and completely awestruck by the opportunity to be included, let alone make films of my own. A director thought my audition was funny? A person who saw my film at a festival actually felt something from it?? My film even got into a festival??? There must be a mistake! This is all a big joke and the other shoe will drop soon enough.
When Cookie sprains her knee just before the final of best in show, she throws Gerry into the ring saying "you're going to show Winky". He's a nervous wreck, protesting he can't do it. The entire cast of characters rally around Gerry to help him prepare to show Winky (...and, not to spoil the movie, but Winky wins Best in Show). A huge moment for Winky, but more importantly for Gerry, in that he is capable. He's earned his place in this life he's built for himself. He can believe in himself, and people around him believe in him too. The confidence that Cookie shows in Gerry, and that her character has in herself, is something that has stuck with me for as long as I can remember.
This movie single-handedly inspired my comedic voice (and love of comedy). It was a revelation to me that satire could be so brilliantly hilarious and also poignant and meaningful. Also, that this movie could not function without any member of its ensemble missing. They lift each other up, they play off of each other in singular ways, and each character's arc is important. But I think the real reason that this movie has remained my favorite of all time is because of the lessons it teaches about believing in yourself and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you too.
One of the many reasons I love filmmaking is because of the community it builds. Creating trust with your collaborators during pre-production. Feeling that singular, indescribable magic on set when you've just done the perfect take. Leaning on your crew when the day seems to be never ending. Watching it all come together to unite so many different kinds of audience members. And this movie exemplifies that. The clear dedication and preparation that can be seen in every detail of each character's monologue. The costume design, like Meg Swan's braces, so perfectly accentuated by Parker Posey's smile. And Gerry's never-ending perseverance to be the best partner, and later handler, that he can be.
The pandemic made the entire world stop. During this time, I struggled with what a lot of my fellow actors and writers and film industry friends struggled with: losing jobs, isolation, feelings of worthlessness and that I would never be able to make art again.
I re-watched Best in Show one night when I was sheltering in place with my parents. It was as funny as it always is, but even more than that it gave us a couple hours of comfort and respite from the anxiety of the world. It made us laugh to tears, it had us quoting scenes to each other throughout the rest of the week. It brought us small joys in a time that felt very big and scary. And Gerry's ultimate hero's journey reminded me that on the days where my brain is constantly telling me that I am not a good enough writer or actor, or that I should just quit and try to do something else, that I don't have to listen to that voice. That all I can do is try my best and see what happens. Especially with the support of the beautiful community that I've built in this industry.
And that laughter (and dogs) always makes everything feel better.
FILMS THAT SHAPE US is a FilmQuill series focused on the many important and powerful films that change our understanding of the world and alter our life's direction. This series is open to contributions from readers - if a film has had an impact on your life and you want to write about it, please CLICK HERE to submit a topic proposal and a FilmQuill editor will be in contact shortly.
ALLIE LEONARD is an LA based actor and writer originally from Washington, DC. Allie earned her BFA with honors from NYU Tisch School of the Arts training at Playwrights Horizons Theater School and International Theater Workshop in Amsterdam.