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Laramie Movie Scope:
Miss Congeniality

Pygmalion meets beauty pageant

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 23, 2000 -- "Miss Congeniality" is a slapstick romp through a Miss America-like beauty pageant that gets sidetracked by weepy romanticism, feminism and various other unfunny causes. The result is a confused mess that's partly funny and partly boring.

Sandra Bullock of "28 Days" stars as Gracie Hart, a tomboy FBI agent who is assigned to be an undercover contestant in a beauty contest. Bullock is very good at playing a nerdy, graceless, unattractive slob. She has to be transformed into a believable contestant in two days. Making the transformation is Victor Melling (played by veteran actor Michael Caine). For Melling, this is more than a job, it is a chance for redemption. He wants to regain his spot as a top beauty pageant consultant.

Hart resists. She feels beauty pageant contestants are a bunch of brainless women who are setting back the cause of feminism by a hundred years. Melling redoubles his efforts. After a time, Hart begins to respond to the way that men are attracted to her new found femininity. She also becomes friends with some of the contestants and finds out they are a pretty decent lot.

A lot of the comedy stems from Bullock's ability to appear to be tough and uncouth, and how those qualities contrast with her surroundings. The smoother and more feminine she becomes, however, the less comedy there is in that situation. At this point the plot turns into a romantic comedy, coupled with an attempt to find the mad bomber intent on disrupting the proceedings. These subplots don't work well. The mad bomber's motive is nonsensical and the romance is more like a brawl.

It is pretty obvious that Hart is a smart, competent agent, yet she is treated badly by the bureau because she is an independent thinker. Ernie Hudson of "Congo" has the thankless role of Hart's superior, the permanently angry McDonald, who won't back his agents. Benjamin Bratt of "Red Planet" plays agent Eric Matthews, who is attracted to Hart, but won't stick his neck out to help her either. Their romance is pretty thin for obvious reasons. Caine is very effective as the gay consultant. Candice Bergen, formerly of the "Murphy Brown" TV show, is good as the bitter pageant host Kathy Morningside. William Shatner of "Star Trek: Generations," is good as Stan, a spaced-out pageant host.

Another problem with the film is that it fails to convince us there is anything worthwhile about beauty pageants, so it is hard to believe that Hart would get very worked up over the results. It would have been funnier if the contest had been portrayed as the farce it is. Instead, the film tries to have it both ways. The part that works is the relationship between Melling and Hart, because he alone sees the beauty and intelligence that was always there for all to see. He, like Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, seems to be the only character in the movie able to see beyond skin deep, and to understand that the trappings of beauty and class are largely superfluous. Hart is fiercely independent, but she sees there is value in the grace that Melling is teaching her. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)