Drop Dead Gorgeous
Directed by Michael Patrick Jann
Starring Denise Richards, Kirsten Dunst, Kirstie Alley, and Ellen Barkin
MPAA rating: PG-13.
This summer brings us two movies that focus on documentary film teams encountering evil and horror. The first is the much-heralded The Blair Witch Project , which has audiences spooked across the country with its tale of filmmakers lost in the woods and pursued by a malevolent force. But its counterpart encounters a force even more frightening — teen beauty pageant contestants and their mothers. The scene is Mount Rose, Minnesota, home of the Sarah Rose Miss Teen Princess America Pageant. An intrepid documentary film team sets out to document the backstage drama of the event. They find far more drama than they bargained for.
We first meet Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley), organizer of the pageant and a former Miss Teen America herself. This year is especially important to Gladys because her sycophantic, over-achieving daughter Becky (Denise Richards) is up for the ultimate prize, and Gladys is determined to make sure she gets it. Of course, this means eliminating the other contestants one way or another. Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) is the genuine, good-hearted poor girl from the trailer park, who wants to win the contest to be just like her idol, Diane Sawyer. Amber is blessed with talent beyond sanctimoniousness, and Becky and Gladys must concoct increasingly elaborate ways to eliminate her from the contest.
Lona Williams’s script is a bold, shocking parody of small-town America that combines a knowing realism with outrageously dark comedy. The result is a howlingly funny movie that is smart and dead-on in its satire. Alley and Richards are both delightfully vicious as the scheming mother and daughter team. As Amber, Dunst projects the winning, sweet-tempered, yet determined nature of a poor girl trying to make good. She is helped along by the moral support of her loving trailer trash mother (Ellen Barkin) and neighbor (Allison Janney). Whether Amber is practicing her tap-dancing routine while working as a make-up artist at a mortuary, or bravely dealing with the violence inflicted on her loved ones, she proves that belief in your dreams can help you survive just about anything, including repeated sabotage, without losing your sense of self.
Drop Dead Gorgeous skewers American traditions on a grand scale, and does so without any remorse. I would say it’s not for everyone, though. The teenage girls in the row in front of me didn’t seem to find any humor in it. Apparently a beauty pageant contestant doing a dramatic monologue from Soylent Green isn’t amusing to everyone. But if absurd, savage humor appeals to you, Drop Dead Gorgeous is a “mockumentary” worth seeing.