Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Drop Dead Gorgeous

I would not have expected for my dad to recommend we watch a satirical film about beauty pageants, but here we are. Drop Dead Gorgeous is set in the small Minnesota town of Mount Rose, and involves their Miss Teen America something something Pageant. It's filmed as a documentary, though the locals keep thinking the camera crew is from COPS (who do show up at one point, which might have been the part I laughed hardest at).

We get to meet the eight contestants, watch them prepare, meet their parents, see what they hope for in life. It's a varied group, well, as varied as you get in a Minnesota town of 5,000 people, meaning various shades of white folk, though one of the girls is the adopted daughter of Asian immigrants (who ignore their birth daughter in favor of the adopted girl). The two favorites to win are Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), and Becky Leeman (Denise Richards). Amber, because she's a cheerful, friendly, talented, helpful girl that seems like the clear best choice. Becky, because her parents are the wealthiest folks in town and her mother (Kirstie Alley) runs the pageant. That's not really fair to Becky, she has talent, but she's the arrogant rich kid that knows she has all the advantages, but finds that perfectly right and proper, and doesn't bother to hide this.

Which helped me realize that I am really invested in seeing bad (meaning "evil", not "poorly designed") characters get their comeuppance. I get extremely impatient for it, I could not wait for Treat Williams to get his in 1941. If I want to see shitty people get away with treating others like crap, I can just get on the Internet (both in the sense that there will certainly be discussion of such a thing there, and because it happens on the Internet all the time). So it was killing me was Alley stack the deck in Becky's favor, trying to fix things with the judges, with the interview questions, with stupid rules about costumes, and waiting for the chickens to come home to roost. It's nice to watch Amber navigate a minefield that for much of the film she's only vaguely aware of, but it's like watching a Road Runner cartoon where the coyote's traps fail without actually blowing up in his face. Actually, that's not true. I like Wil E. Coyote, and often feel bad for him (the Road Runner is kind of a dick, what with defying the laws of gravity and all).

The humor in the film is dark, kind of poking holes in those idealized visions of life in small-town America, and emphasizing how limited and lousy life in those circumstances can be. Also the different goals and importance people place on things like these pageants, and the difference between what the contestants are told the pageants are about, and what the people in charge are actually getting out of it.

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