Like the wonderful, and superior, Waiting For Guffman, this
mock documentary exploring what goes on behind the scenes of a beauty
pageant pricks the pretensions and narrow attitudes of small town
America. First time feature director Michael Patrick Jann uses the
tired fake documentary formula to explore the bitchiness, ruthless
ambition and drive that occurs backstage at a beauty pageant.
However, this satire of what actually happens behind the scenes of
beauty pageants lacks the sharp writing, biting humour, and genuine
wit that shaped Michael Ritchie's under rated Smile (1975), which
explored similar material.
For fifty years the Miss Mount Rose Beauty pageant has been a
highlight of this small rural township in Minnesota. But this year
seems to bring out the worst in its competitors. A string of
mysterious fatal accidents knock some of the early competitors out of
the race, even before the judging starts. And a film crew is there to
capture it all.
In this year's pageant, the competition for first prize ends
up as a two horse race between two girls from different backgrounds.
Becky Leeman (Denise Richards, from Wild Things, and the forthcoming
new Bond film) is the ambitious and fiercely competitive daughter of
Gladys (Kirstie Alley), herself a former winner and now head of the
organising committee for the pageant. Becky has had everything
virtually handed to her on a silver platter, and hates losing. Her
main rival is Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst, from Interview With The
Vampire, etc), a "piece of white trash" who lives in a run down
trailer park with her mother (Ellen Barkin), an alcoholic hairdresser.
The differences between these two rivals is explored with the
distinct lack of subtlety that is a hallmark of the film. The two
younger stars deliver quite engaging performances that lift the film a
notch or two. They comprehensively outshine the rather tired and
lacklustre performances of veterans Alley and Barkin, neither of whom
seem overly enthusiastic about the material.
There are some genuinely funny moments in this black comedy,
but they are far and few between. Instead, Jann offers us some
tasteless running gags and a number of gross-out gags that would seem
second rate even to the Farrelly brothers.
Like the recent Election, Drop Dead Gorgeous also offers a
comment on the American ethos of success and winning, whatever the
cost. Jann's direction lacks focus, although some of the film's barbs
manage to strike home. Drop Dead Gorgeous also offers a quick,
stereotyped portrait of small town America and its inhabitants, and
little escapes unscathed. Ultimately, though, is seems that the
filmmakers are mainly retreading familiar territory without offering
anything fresh or original.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King