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We've seen more than an average number of satirical movies this year, some of which have been extremely sharp-edged and witty, packed with the kind of black humor that Cranky likes. Somewhere in the middle is Drop Dead Gorgeous, uses the mockucumentary style made famous in the groundbreaking This is Spinal Tap and takes aim at a fictional Teen Beauty pageant. DDG is set in lovely Mount Rose, Minnesota, a God-fearing town where the good girls see the Sarah Rose American Teen Princess®© Pageant as a coming of age obligation and potential ticket out of their dead-end town. The bad girls, for your information -- pierced, drunk and pregnant social misfits all -- hang out in the school bathroom to smoke their cigarettes and wait for their water to break.
As the COPS-style documentary crew films the festivities, we meet ten good girls of St. Rose, all of whom have reasons for being in the pageant and all of whom know that the fix is for Becky Leeman (Denise Richards) the daughter of the richest family in town. Her mom Gladys (Kirstie Ally) won the pageant seventeen years earlier and has groomed Becky to inherit the tradition. Mom is also the organizer of the preliminary contest, and has selected a panel of malleable judges. It's pretty much a done deal. Problem is, there are two talented teens who actually have a chance of winning on merit alone.
Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) is the trailer trash girl serves up lunch in the high school and carries a second job applying makeup to the corpses in the city morgue. Not only does she have talent with a brush, the isolation of the dead zone provides a wonderful arena to practice her tap dancing talent and dream that she can follow the same career path as her idol, ex-beauty pageant contestant Diane Sawyer. As the documentary crew filming this Fiftieth Anniversary pageant documents, the prime contenders in the pageant and the male contender for Amber's heart bite the dust in quick, accidental succession. Could this be some kind of bleak conspiracy? Gee, you think?
Of the over-twenties in the cast, Kirstie Alley does a lovely Fargo-style accent but Ellen Barkin, as Amber's mom, eclipses almost any white trash femme role Cranky can recall and graphically demonstrates how a can of beer can be both best friend and/or the bane of trailer trash existence. Barkin is almost topped by Allison Janney as her incredibly horny best friend. Yes, there are men in this flick. The setting being Minnesota, there must be a town moron, and that role is hysterically filled by MadTV's Will Sasso, who proves there is life after Corky and the Juice Pigs.
Of the kidlets, Dunst is by far the star of the show. Her character innocently battles all odds, and even with the blatant attacks against her home, her potential boyfriend, her mom and her stage gear, she keeps a fairly stiff upper lip. Just the kind of character you root for. When the fix comes down, let's just say the ultimate resolution doesn't mark the end of the movie. No, Amber doesn't do the All American thing and grab a twenty aught seven and blow away the cheating bitch who stole what was rightfully hers. The resolution is even bleaker, blacker and funnier. Unfortunately, bringing the tale to its logical conclusion means it keeps going long after you're ready for it to be over.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Drop Dead Gorgeous, he would have paid...
Pay per view range. I can't get enthusiastic enough to reco your spending the big bucks for a theater ticket. It's territory that has been mined on teevee before, and is probably where Drop Dead Gorgeous should be seen even now.
Parodying the guns and religion mentality (well that's how us Godless city folk look at rural Minnesota -- Mary Tyler Moore lived in the big sinful city, don'tcha know) Drop Dead Gorgeous delivers an adequate satire whose writing is a lot sharper than its direction and production values let on. Fact of the matter is that Spinal Tap did it first, did it better, and there have been enough similar teevee movie tales of dismal doings behind the main curtain that there isn't much new in the way of parody of the event. The script by Lona Williams allows the characters to slip in lots of sly gags, most of which strike like a Wendy Liebman punchline, one on top of another. Would that there were more.
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