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Drop Dead Gorgeous

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Drop Dead Gorgeous

Starring: Denise Richards, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Michael Patrick Jann
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: July 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Ellen Barkin, Kirstie Alley, William Sasso, Brittany Murphy

Review by Greg King
2½ stars out of 4

Like the wonderful, and superior, Waiting For Guffman, this mock documentary exploring what goes on behind the scenes of a beauty pageant pricks the pretensions and narrow attitudes of small town America. First time feature director Michael Patrick Jann uses the tired fake documentary formula to explore the bitchiness, ruthless ambition and drive that occurs backstage at a beauty pageant. However, this satire of what actually happens behind the scenes of beauty pageants lacks the sharp writing, biting humour, and genuine wit that shaped Michael Ritchie's under rated Smile (1975), which explored similar material.

For fifty years the Miss Mount Rose Beauty pageant has been a highlight of this small rural township in Minnesota. But this year seems to bring out the worst in its competitors. A string of mysterious fatal accidents knock some of the early competitors out of the race, even before the judging starts. And a film crew is there to capture it all.

In this year's pageant, the competition for first prize ends up as a two horse race between two girls from different backgrounds. Becky Leeman (Denise Richards, from Wild Things, and the forthcoming new Bond film) is the ambitious and fiercely competitive daughter of Gladys (Kirstie Alley), herself a former winner and now head of the organising committee for the pageant. Becky has had everything virtually handed to her on a silver platter, and hates losing. Her main rival is Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst, from Interview With The Vampire, etc), a "piece of white trash" who lives in a run down trailer park with her mother (Ellen Barkin), an alcoholic hairdresser.

The differences between these two rivals is explored with the distinct lack of subtlety that is a hallmark of the film. The two younger stars deliver quite engaging performances that lift the film a notch or two. They comprehensively outshine the rather tired and lacklustre performances of veterans Alley and Barkin, neither of whom seem overly enthusiastic about the material.

There are some genuinely funny moments in this black comedy, but they are far and few between. Instead, Jann offers us some tasteless running gags and a number of gross-out gags that would seem second rate even to the Farrelly brothers.

Like the recent Election, Drop Dead Gorgeous also offers a comment on the American ethos of success and winning, whatever the cost. Jann's direction lacks focus, although some of the film's barbs manage to strike home. Drop Dead Gorgeous also offers a quick, stereotyped portrait of small town America and its inhabitants, and little escapes unscathed. Ultimately, though, is seems that the filmmakers are mainly retreading familiar territory without offering anything fresh or original.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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