|Drop Dead Gorgeous
1999 - PG-13 - 97 Mins.
|Director: Michael Patrick Jann
|Producer: Judy Hofflund and Gavin Polone
|Written By: Lona Williams
|Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, Denise Richards and Kirstie Alley
|Review by: Bill King
|Official Site: www.newline.com/sites/ddgorgeous/
"Drop Dead Gorgeous" is a drop dead unfunny satire of beauty pageants. The film takes on the form of a documentary, with a camera crew following the major players of a local Minnesota teen pageant as they battle for the state title. The winner goes to Alabama to compete for the national title against the other 49 states. The crew captures most of the events leading up to the big day, and interviews all contestants and parents who will participate. The characters that participate in the "documentary" are a collection of the most boring and uninteresting people on the planet.
Vote for me and I'll put my face on Mt. Rushmore.
Maybe the filmmakers, including writer Lona Williams and director Michael Patrick Jann, wanted to poke fun at the absurdities of beauty pageants. Many of the characters possess exaggerated personalities designed to turn them into caricatures of models. This has the unintended effect of turning them into untalented bores. The main villainess, Becky Leeman (Denise Richards), sings praise about Jesus before dancing with a life-size crucifix. Another contestant recites lines from "Soylent Green," as if Charleton Heston's final declaration in that film is something people really want to hear. Having never watched a beauty pageant, I can only assume that contestants actually perform ridiculous skits to show off their talent (perhaps to make themselves seem more enlightened than they really are), but the actress in the movie who recites the lines does so in such a poor manner that the satirical edge is gone.
Kirsten Dunst stars as Amber Atkins, a good high school student who dreams of winning the national title. She enters the local pageant knowing that Becky is the favorite, due to her mother Gladys (Kirstie Alley) being a former winner. The mock camera crew documents the contestants' activities and interviews their family members, most of whom are eccentric just for the sake of it. This would have been a good opportunity to highlight how some people put on a façade for the camera, but during the few moments when the camera crew is not present, the characters remain unchanged. Again, the potential for a real satirical edge is lost.
One contestant is killed just before the competition, and an attempt on Amber's life only solidifies the suspicion that someone is eliminating the competition. Perhaps this is an over-the-top method of presenting the notion that some contestants in real pageants resort to desperate measures, but the manner in which the film handles these plot developments is far out of touch with the satirical nature of the production. Why is it that we have to see Amber's mother with a beer can melted to her hand anyway? It's not exactly a pretty sight.
The biggest problem with "Drop Dead Gorgeous" is that the characters, except for Amber, are aware that they're in a satire. Just watch Denise Richards as she tries to impress the judges, or for that matter, watch any of the actresses on the stage. If they were absolutely serious about their talents, they wouldn't draw attention to their stupidity by adding big smiles and a desperateness to their voices. The actress who recites "Soylent Green" should be as poised and calm as possible. Her selection for the talent portion is already somewhat humorous, so we understand what the filmmakers are saying about bland subject matter in real pageants. It's not necessary for her to add a spin to her recital. Instead, she puts as much "acting" as possible in her performance for the judges.
The script isn't funny, most of the acting is shallow and the mock documentary execution is poor. Kirsten Dunst's appearance in lesser films usually saves them from the scrapheap. She is the only one who comes out unscathed, thanks to her charming performance. "Drop Dead Gorgeous" could have been a lot worse. Her presence allows us to pay attention to the movie more, therefore making its flaws clearer. Just imagine if she wasn't part of the cast at all. The movie would suck more and we wouldn't know why.