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Heroes of the Zeroes: Best in Show / A Mighty Wind

by on February 1, 2010
 

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009. Today’s entry counts as two films.

“Best in Show / A Mighty Wind”
Rated PG-13
2000 / 2003

“Mockumentary” sounds like an exceptionally mean movie genre, conjuring connotations of catty, petty jokes at the expense of good people who, well, like what they like.

At their best, Christopher Guest and his exhaustively talented ensemble typically didn’t send up creativity, competition or those who partake of either one. The dog-show hobbies of 2000’s “Best in Show” and the folk-singer livelihoods of 2003’s “A Mighty Wind” served as backdrops for improvised riffs on oddball character traits.

“Show” follows Jennifer Coolidge, Guest, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey as owners or handlers of dogs at a prestigious Philadelphia competition.

As an airheaded gold-digger, Coolidge drops addlebrained bombs like “We could talk, or not talk, forever and still find things to talk about” with precision timing. Higgins, who rivaled Paul Rudd’s masterful supporting turns last decade, portrays an effectively queenish dog handler while McKean excels as his gay straight man.

“Show’s” real pedigree doesn’t even arrive until the film’s halfway point, when Guest and co-writer Levy get a little nasty — and gleefully, righteously so.

Fred Willard’s unforgettable dim-bulb portrayal of Buck Laughlin — an ignoramus offering puerile play-by-play commentary of the kennel show — took a shot at television’s vapid injection of “sports drama” into animal competitions where, quite simply, there is none. (Here’s looking at you, Joe Garagiola.)

Willard doesn’t dominate “Wind” as he does “Show,” but he steals the moments he’s in as Mike La Fontaine — a frosty-haired relic of bad TV with an overused catchphrase (“Wha’ happened?!”) and a slathered-on tan.

He’s the manager of the New Main Street Singers (led by Higgins and Lynch) — on the bill for “Ode to Irving,” a memorial concert for a fallen ’60s folk-music impresario.

The other acts are the Folksmen (Guest, McKean and Harry Shearer — turning Spinal Tap into a toe-tapping trio) and Mitch & Mickey (Levy and O’Hara), a duo once linked by romance as they were by music.

Populated by peppy singers with toothy grins, “Wind’s” faux album covers alone are priceless (the Folksmen’s “Singin’,” “Wishin’ ” and “Pickin’ ”). And Levy’s clinched-face confusion suggests residual drugs occasionally dislodging directly into his bloodstream.

But O’Hara evokes true nostalgia and regret in her eyes when recalling the duo’s heyday. And one breathtaking moment of clarity between Mitch and Mickey gives way to an anticipated kiss during which you can practically sense the characters’ hearts thumping and their fictional contemporaries rooting for them.

We laughed at Gerry Fleck’s literal problem of having two left feet, not his genuine love for tiny terrier Winky, and we tittered at Laurie Bohner’s last name and her path through porn to folk-music redemption, not the idea of joy in singing.

In fact, the second Guest’s crew jumped the tracks — and poked inside-baseball fun at the idea of Oscar-chasing actors in 2006’s “For Your Consideration” — their formula derailed.

But in “Show” and “Wind,” Guest and company delivered laugh-out-loud comedy and, in “Wind’s” case, a touching, reflective and bittersweet poignancy.