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Beautiful

Starring Minnie Driver; Joey Lauren Adams and Hallie Kate Eisenberg
Screenplay by Jon Bernstein
Directed by Sally Field
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IN SHORT: A misfire from almost the word go. [Rated PG-13 for language and thematic elements. 107 minutes]

There is no way to put this nicely, so we'll dole out the nasty tasting medicine and get on with it. Screenwriter Jon Bernstein's original work must have looked great to two time Oscar winning actress Sally Field when she considered it as her first big screen project as a director. While the main story is about a woman driven to find self-worth via the world of beauty pageants, essentially turning her back on her own daughter in the process, the script's two major plot twists rest on details involving a broadcast reporter seeking personal revenge during a live broadcast and a health care worker falsely accused of overmedicating an elderly patient to death. We all bring our own baggage into the movie theater and, as someone with extensive experience with health care and broadcasting, we can honestly report that Bernstein's ideas are a huge load of nigh on impossible crap. We'll come back to that, later. Add on the horribly miscast Minnie Driver in the title role and the net result is a true waste of time.

We sat in a sneak preview of Sally Field's movie Beautiful and watched the audience carefully. Actually, there wasn't much else to do since we didn't buy the story or the characters or even the physical age of Minnie Driver's star character for an instant. The women in the audience did and, when there were jokes to be laughed at, they laughed, heartily. I questioned some of them afterwards and got the answer "this movie was exactly what we expected and we didn't have any problems ignoring what didn't make sense to you". Based on their reaction I asked "then you would not want to pay full ticket price for this but you would pay the rental price? And one of them answered "Oh we wouldn't pay for this at all." Geez, that's even more severe than the old Cranky guy.

We first meet Mona Hibbard as a twelve year old girl (Colleen Rennison), living in Naperville, IL in a family environment economically just a shade above white trash. Her mom is a drunk. Her step dad is a habitually unemployed worthless piece of scum who treads the fine line bordering on sexual abuse closely enough to help get this film a PG-13 rating. The only way out for this pathetic little kidlet, and the only fantasy that gives her any sense of self worth, is to win a local beauty pageant. Which she fails to do again and again and again. What little Mona goes through to raise the money to pay for the registration fees and the orthodontist bills and the coaching classes given by Verna Chickle (Kathleen Turner), the woman who runs the pageants(!), should be enough to win your sympathy and give you a sense of the steely self resolve that will manifest itself in the adult Mona, played by Minnie Driver. Unfortunately, we also learn that the kid will do anything, including sabotaging other contestants, lying about her history and so on and so forth, to win. The beauty pageant world is not a pretty one but that kind of cutthroat competition story has been done before.

Helping Mona out is her best friend from school Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams) who designs her costumes and conspiratorially covers when nature rears its ugly head and deposits a daughter into the household. Mona's "niece" Vanessa (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) will, of course, cause great angst for her as she battles her way to the national finals of the Miss American Miss 2000 beauty pageant. Along the way, her self absorbed egocentric and downright unlikable portrayal gets in the way of any sympathy that you could have for the character. That disassociation gave this male plenty of time to sit and figure out the climax of this by the book script whose only surprise is a pathetic twist involving the suicide of an elderly character and its effect upon Ruby. In addition, a vindictive television news reporter Joyce Parkins (Leslie Stefanson) plans to reveal Vanessa's true parentage on live television.

What you'll see in the final act is so badly written that it showcases Bernstein's utter lack of research or knowledge into the way things work in broadcasting. Trust us, it's wrong. We also know, having spent months and months in hospital, that nurses who dispense pills to patients NEVER carry bottles of medication with them on their rounds. Both plot tactics are manipulative dramatic points and pathetic bits of story.

We can appreciate why the female viewers got a kick out of jokes taking apart the lovely 22 year old Barbie dolls parading across the pageant stage but too many closeups of Minnie Driver's eyes shred any possible illusion as to the age of her character, either at "19" or "26". Driver doesn't look like either. Nor does she look to be the same age as Joey Lauren Adams, who can pass for 26. When a story relies on looks and age as much as this one does, if you don't believe the casting, there's little that can be done to make you believe the story.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Beautiful, he would have paid...

$1.00

Hallie Kate Eisenberg, as the 7 year old daughter, does a fine job, with only one can of Pepsi on display in the entire flick.

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