| art & architecture | books & cds | dance
| destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
Drop Dead Gorgeous
Drop Dead Gorgeous continues the trend of dark
satire on the screen, which would include such films as Happiness
and the French Sitcom. More specifically we are in a subgenre which we could call high
school flick cum satire, Rushmore and Election
both being well-received recent entries in that rather narrow category.
There is some very
funny stuff in Drop Dead Gorgeous. Set in a small town in Minnesota, the story
revolves around a local beauty contest, the bottom rung of a series of competitions of
ever widening geographical scope, culminating in the Sarah Rose Miss Teen Princess
America Pageant. Anyone who has watched the slickly produced Miss America pageant on
television knows that these exercises in the packaging of feminine youth as commodity for
advertising exploitation, combined with family values and flag waving,
god-and-country patriotism are virtually self-spoofs. A sitting duck, then, but
screenwriter Lona Williams, in her first outing, manages to find enough targets to mock
with enough wit to keep a steady flow of laughs going.
Williams uses the
framing conceit of a documentary being filmed about the pageant to allow direct
communication between the characters and the audience, as represented by the invisible
camera and crew making the film. Credit her script and the direction of Michael Patrick
Jann, also debuting here, with making the device work and keeping the pace moving at the
fast clip needed to sustain this sort of material.
(Kirstie Alley) is the now matronly, once-upon-a-time beauty queen who runs the local
pageant with more than enough smarmy, patronizing meanness to be a clay pigeon for
pratfalls. This year her daughter, Becky (Denise Richards), is a contestant and no ploy is
beneath consideration for ambitious Gladys to secure the title for her daughter. Indeed, a
series of strange accidents starts to occur, knocking out some of the key competition.
Becky is never really developed as a character, acting as an extension of Gladys' will,
but she does have one terrifically funny scene when she participates in the talent portion
of the competition and ends up dancing with Jesus on a cross.
The major challenger
is Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst in a fine turn), trailer park trash up against the Leemans
- the richest family in town. She's ambitious, too, idolizing Diane Sawyer, but she is
sweet and unspoiled. Ellen Barkin is suitably de classe as her mother, a smoking, beer
swilling hair dresser. Amber's father is out of the picture. "He left the family for
his career," she says. "Once a carny, always a carny," says Mom's good
friend, Loretta (Allison Janney).
The targets of the
satire are many, extending well beyond the contest itself and ranging from candy-stripers
to perverts, class differences to patriotism and religion. But a good deal of the humor is
deliberately and blatantly politically incorrect, aimed at minorities (Jewish, Mexican,
Japanese-American), anorexics, the retarded, the deaf, amputees. Some of this material is
undeniably funny, but it will surely be painful to some viewers and reinforce negative
prejudice in others. When those considerations start coming up in this reviewer's mind,
the material just doesn't seem so funny any more.
On a less
significant note, Williams and Jann also were sufficiently insecure in the rest of their
material to find it necessary to join the recent spate of totally vulgar crudity as a
source of (presumed) humor, including a scene of group regurgitation. Such material
weakens rather than strengthens any claim to comedy/satire above the lowest commercial
common denominator. The market buys it, though. Maybe the next target of such satire
should be the people who create it.
- Arthur Lazere