**1/2 (out of five)
Hopefully, you’ve seen Christopher Guest’s mockumentary Best in Show (2000), about the lead up to the “Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show”. It follows diverse dog owners, played by Guest’s regular ensemble of impeccable improvisatory comedians, as they prepare, pamper, promote and ultimately present their pooches for judgement. It’s hysterically funny from start to finish, up there with Waiting For Guffman as Guest’s best and funniest work. In fact I daresay it’s one of the funniest movies ever made.
It’s also impossible not to be reminded of while watching Chicken People, which is an actual documentary about actual Americans (mostly from Ohio) who actually prepare, pamper, promote and present their actual chickens for shows held across the mid-western farm belt. The shows are far less grandiose than those the Mayflower Kennel Club presents, but the passion of the participants is no less than that displayed by Guest’s wacky crew.
In particular, one of the new film’s subjects, Brian Caraker, will immediately evoke fond memories of one of the greatest of all characters in the entire Guestiverse, Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins), the flamboyant, outrageous, kind, warm, witty and suuuper gay TriBeCa dog groomer. Unlike Scott, Brian is pretty obviously not out of the closet, and may even be in denial of his extremely plain-to-see homosexuality. His descriptions of chickens, layered with unintended innuendo, are very funny, but his plight gives the film some unexpected depth; surrounded by an unprogressive culture, and with no plans to move out of it, Brian seems trapped in a part of the United States that may seem cute but is actually terribly sad. Ohio voted for Trump in the 2016 election, but we now know that Trump doesn’t give a chickenshit about any of these people we see on screen; the more innocent they seem, so the more tragic.