If you’re looking for something to break up the quarantined summer doldrums, you could do worse than a dose of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara.
Somehow, June has already become July—so once again, a slew of new streaming offerings have arrived on platforms like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon. As always, the offerings are plentiful—but one option is clearly the Best in Show. With all the Christopher Guest-directed films coming to Hulu, you could stage a miniature marathon—and honestly, the time has never been better.
Waiting for Guffman (1997), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), and For Your Consideration (2006) are all available on Hulu as of Wednesday. Although Hulu’s selection is not a complete showcase of Guest’s work—This Is Spinal Tap, which he wrote and starred in, is perhaps the most notable missing entry—it’s a more than satisfying sample.
Perhaps more than anything, these films represent some of Guest’s warmest and most charming work. Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind, in particular, show a tenderness toward their subjects, even as they skewer them. The mockumentary can, at its worst, rely on uninspired meanness as a source for comedy—but what sets Guest’s work apart is how utterly and undeniably charming it is. It’s a distinction Guest owes, at least in part, to his frequent co-writer and co-star Eugene Levy.
In Waiting for Guffman, Guest plays Corky St. Clair, who is bent on making his way back to Broadway. Levy plays the winkingly named dentist Dr. Allan Pearl—one of the hopeless Blaine, Missouri locals Corky casts in his patriotic musical revue Red, White and Blaine. As Allan, Levy blinks behind comically thick glasses—a shuffling, mumbling square determined to find something deeper and more artistic within himself.
A crueler pair of writers would have juiced Dr. Allan Pearl for every cringeworthy bit of comedic pulp until there was nothing left. But with Waiting for Guffman, Guest and Levy set what would become a precedent for their films: Levy’s character, outwardly the most hopeless outcast, gets a happy ending.
That’s not to say that Waiting for Guffman and the Guest-Levy films that came after it don’t make fun of Levy’s characters. No matter what world Guest and Levy take on—be it the amateur theater world, snobby dog show circles, the flowery, forlorn folk music scene, or the mind-numbing thrill of the Oscars chase—the writing duo makes clear that they know how inherently ridiculous the terrain and its occupants are. But they also understand that the biggest, best laughs they can get will be borne out of fleeting empathy.
To fully understand why these characters and their worlds are funny, you have to take them a little seriously. You have to at least casually root for them. From the jump, these movies make us laugh not only at their characters, but at ourselves for caring even fleetingly about them. As much as Guest and Levy love to make fun of their characters, who are often long on confidence and short of self awareness, they also clearly love them.
Like in Best in Show—it would have been funny enough to scoff at how silly the Norwich Terrier handling couple Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Levy and Catherine O’Hara) are for worrying that Gerry’s literal two left feet could screw up their prize pooch Winky’s chance at winning the blue ribbon. But what the movie actually does is a quiet stroke of genius: Instead of just laughing at Gerry Fleck, you’re also really hoping against all reason that he’ll lay down some fancy footwork and stage an improbable win.
These movies aren’t all necessarily perfect—although Best in Show comes close. For Your Consideration can feel less incisive than the others, and A Mighty Wind, an otherwise near-perfect movie, dampens its epilogue with a transphobic joke that, in addition to being unfunny, feels entirely out of place. But overall, these movies are delightful, pairing withering writing with side-splitting performances from repertory actors like Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael McKean, and Jane Lynch.
There’s also a sublime pleasure to watching these films as an exhibit of Levy and O’Hara’s work together through the years, just months after Schitt’s Creek tearfully wrapped its stellar run. It’s heartwarming to watch these two forge a friendship and on-screen chemistry that would one day become the foundation for such a masterpiece—almost, for a moment, like watching a home movie.
And let’s not forget, these films also captured some of another frequent Guest collaborator, the late Fred Willard’s, best performances. In Waiting for Guffman, he played Catherine O’Hara’s husband—one-half of a travel agent duo who had never left Blaine, Missouri, save for one trip for a penis reduction surgery. In Best in Show, Willard was an effortless crack-up as oblivious commentator Buck Laughlin. (His best line, in my correct opinion: “Now tell me, which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?”) In A Mighty Wind, he played folk-music manager Mike LaFontaine, whose main priority was actually revitalizing his sitcom career—and his catchphrase “Wha’ happened?” And in For Your Consideration, Willard stole nearly every scene he appeared in as the faux-hawked journalist Chuck—whose propensity for celebrity stalking is outmatched only by his ability to come up with the most inappropriate or oblivious possible question.
These movies make for a light and blissfully mindless escape from a summer that somehow feels both never-ending and like it hasn’t even started yet. For a few hours, you’ll hopefully forget where you are. And in the process, you’ll see Eugene Levy in a lot of funny wigs and prosthetics. Most importantly this one: