Beautiful Movie Review

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Few things simultaneously sicken and seduce the feminist spirit in quite as thorough a way as an American beauty pageant. Now an inextricable fixture on our cultural landscape, the pageant defines, glorifies, and objectifies Woman as a prescription for all time. An evening spent watching the Miss America proceedings on TV is like a psychosexual time warp, dragging us back to a kinder, simpler time when the female of the species need not worry itself over difficult issues like voting or wearing shoes. So it was not without a sense of irony that I walked down the cinema for a screening Sally Field's Beautiful.

Irony is the central force of Field's representative pageantry, and in the tradition of Drop Dead Gorgeous, it is no disappointment. But this is also a human story, about women in search of identity and belonging.

Mona (Minnie Driver) is a dubious beauty queen, having spent her entire life contesting--against all reason and likelihood--for the crown of Miss American Miss. Though not graced with especially striking looks from the outset, and born into a household that makes Hee Haw look glamorous, Mona's years of determination and artificiality are finally paying off. She has become Miss Illinois. Now, if she can keep her false persona straight, she stands a chance of winning the crown. And if it weren't for the untimely suicide of her best friend's convalescent patient and the disqualifying existence of her 7-year-old daughter (played by Hallie Kate Eisenberg, that annoying little girl from the Pepsi commercials), victory might be simple.

Fortunately for moviegoers, life is not so simple. But equally unfortunately, much of this tale's delivery is bogged down by an incongruous sense of vision.

At the story's outset, it is compelling and funny. Young Mona is precocious and endearing as she struggles to grow up and prove her self worth in the shadow of her alcoholic mother. Her drive to win beauty pageants is a believable compulsion, though fraught with ridiculous overtones. But, by the time Driver steps in to play the role, Mona has become little more than a caricature. She is absurd and unloving, one-dimensional in her desire to win pageants and incapable of basic human emotion. This lack of humanity makes the character fundamentally boring to watch, in spite of Driver's obvious talent.

Eisenberg, however, is--though I so hate to admit it--quite good in her role as the young Vanessa (except for the argument scenes, in which her shrill screaming was more deafening than interesting). Once we've made it through the long, irritating period of watching how far Mona's personality has degenerated, Eisenberg's performance as the story's conscience-bearer is a much-needed refreshment. Too quickly, though, does this spiral into an uncontrollable finale of cheesy feminist messages.

Sally Field's direction is, for the most part, above par. But this film is disappointingly short on substance. In the end, mothers and daughters may bond over many of the movie's funnier, heartwarming scenes, but most moviegoers will do well to wait for the DVD.

Mmmmm... hot apple pie.

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Beautiful Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2000

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