review by Elias Savada, 22 September 200029

Beautiful ain’t. Actress turned feature film director Sally Field may be proclaiming “You like me! You really like me!” behind the camera, but don’t be egged on. Here’s yet another beauty pageant drama that cooks up lumpish clichés and a syrupy sweet ending that will leave you gagging -- and shaking your head in disbelief.

When someone as self-centered and darkly cynical as Illinois-bred Mona Hibbard (Minnie Driver) decides to make it her sole ambition in life to win the Miss American Miss contest at nearly any devious cost, she alienates her blue collar mother, an unemployed, beer-gut of a stepfather, an unforgiving audience, and all her friends except one (and she ends up in jail). Actually she has just the one friend. No surprise there. As a twelve-year-old, played by Colleen Rennison (and looking like a young Anna Paquin), Mona disposes of one prissy rival (who later stages a mean spirited revenge scheme) in a talent segment by smearing instant glue on a baton set aflame and stuck in the contestant’s grasp. The ne’er-do-well further serves up a dose of faux heroics by dousing the startled competitor with a handy fire extinguisher. Seems Mona can’t win anyway, other than a “participant” medal during one contest officiated by Kathleen Turner as a Southern-fried stage mother. And, although the various pageant officials can’t prove it, when Mona’s nearby a scandal isn’t far behind.

Then comes the big whooper. She’s promiscuous. She has a kid, Vanessa (Hallie Kate Eisenberg). Out of wedlock. As that’s a no-no in the Roberts Rule of Beauty Pageantry, Mona somehow persuades her best friend Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams), a caring but mentally diminutive nurse to raise the girl as her own. Skip ahead and the twenty-six-year-old can finally taste her dream after seven years of back-stabbing and duplicity, when as Miss Illinois Miss America Miss (Say that ten times quickly. Go on.) she’s two months away from national victory. As the contest approaches, there’s a silly sidebar story at the assisted living center where Ruby works that throws the candy striper in jail on a bogus “angel of mercy” murder rap (never properly cleared up). Don’t you just hate when that happens? God forbid Mona should get a life, take the soccer-devoted girl to one of her school matches, actually fess up to her daughter, and get her friend out of jail. Hey someone has to have priorities. Alas, the two-faced conniver is busy prancing about the runways in her bathing suit. Am I missing something? What’s to like here?

Certainly not the script by co-producer Jon Bernstein. The press material mysteriously omits his bio, but he’s the hack responsible for the forgettable Ringmaster, his only other feature credit. Maybe Sally Field saw that title as his freshman effort and thought it was a circus picture.

The only cute thing in sight is Eisenberg, the also-ran-cola spokeschild and now-illegitimate offspring. She’s grown out of this fiasco, one hopes. The soft-drink company should be credited as a co-producer, as it blatantly plants abundant product placements on screen for the “P” drink and its potato chip subsidiary. The tot gets one of the better insipid lines, and you’ll find it in the trailer. When Mona, fitfully searching for a phony cause, asks “Do you know any handicapped people?” To which Vanessa quickly responds, “Only you.” Download it, play it, erase it. Don’t spend the money taking your kids to see this at the theater. They won’t speak to you again. Especially after seeing Mona and Ruby drive off in a car without buckling their seat belts. What kind of example are these mothers setting?

Ask yourself, “Why suffer through nearly two hours of such drudgery and over-produced dance numbers (I’m Every Woman) for five minutes of redemptive swill that manipulates the tear ducts?” The hackneyed, semi-sacrificial ending, straight out of Mr. Holland’s Opus and In & Out, allows Mona to have her cake and eat it too. Me? I’m still gagging. Where’s that barf bag?

Directed by:
Sally Field

Minnie Driver
Hallie Kate Eisenberg
Joey Lauren Adams
Leslie Stefanson
Bridgette L. Wilson
Kathleen Turner

Written by:
Jon Berstein



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