A common adage -- as well as a title of a past and now resurrected TV show -- is that "kids say the darndest things." Well, truth be told, sometimes their parents do the darndest things, often in the misguided hopes of achieving glory through their offspring that they could never attain themselves.
The result? Kids pushed to compete in sports when they don't want to or who are forced into acting or modeling when they're not ready. The silliest or most heinous, however, -- depending on how you view such matters -- are the parents who push their little girls into beauty pageants.
While the participants in the dark but often charmingly hilarious "Drop Dead Gorgeous" are teens and no longer tykes, the aim of the film is to scathe the entire pageant industry and for the most part it wonderfully succeeds. From the amusing opening with Adam "Batman" West to the Mary Tyler Moore-ish appropriate ending, this black comedy influenced "mockumentary" is even funnier since it focuses on a small Minnesotan pageant instead of a better-known national one.
Accompanied by the stereotypical but still funny accents and phrases such as "Yah, you betcha," the film literally oozes small town charm and eccentricity, but never forces it on the audience. The effect seems effortless, but is clearly a sign of clever writing and keen observational humor and best of all, works right from the beginning.
As such, the film is filled with fun little moments such as the town of Mount Rose proudly displaying one of those old Chamber of Commerce signs stating that the oldest living Lutheran lives there (despite the fact that she's dead), and a character, dismayed by a certain lack of parking, states that the Mall of America should certainly be accompanied by the Parking Lot of America. Then there are the others who wonder if the sight of more video cameras means they're on the TV show, "Cops," again.
All of those moments -- and there are plenty of them -- have a nice cumulative effect of building a serious case of the giggles amongst viewers. At times, I found myself -- along with most of the audience -- laughing the hardest I've done in quite some time (probably since parts of last year's "There's Something About Mary").
In fact, the film continues in the line of edgy and occasionally scatological humor that "Mary" brought back into vogue. While there's nothing quite as outrageous here -- although a mass vomiting scene set to the music from "2001: A Space Odyssey" is indeed quite funny in its own unique context -- the film certainly can't be considered a traditional comedy.
Although the picture does run out of gas and material as it draws toward its conclusion -- which goes on for a few too many superfluous scenes -- for the most part it is quite funny and irreverent right from start to finish.
While some many not find all of the black comedy to their liking -- such as recurring shots of a smoking and drinking pregnant teen -- there are so many other moments present to offset those that either don't work or may be offensive that it doesn't really matter.
From the tap dancing makeup artist who works at the local funeral home (that's currently busy due to it being hunting season and all) to the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club and a contestant's dramatic monologue featuring -- of all things -- dialogue from "Soylent Green," the witty satire is sharp and runs throughout most of the film.
Of course, there are also jabs at the pageant industry itself. While this isn't the first film to skewer this subject (1989's "Miss Firecracker" with Holly Hunter already did it) and the 1993 TV movie "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" (also starring Hunter, but this time as the mom) generally let loose on the deranged parent set and their obsession with having their children win, the combination of pageant satire and the rest of the film's often hilarious material make the overall proceedings quite enjoyable.
The film's casting is inspired and most of the performers are quite good and/or dead on for what's asked of them. While Kirsten Dunst ("Small Soldiers," "Jumanji") nicely plays the likeable heroine, it's Denise Richards ("Wild Things," "Starship Troopers") who perfectly satirizes the stereotypical pageant contestant. With the plastered on and creepily fake smile and clearly forced cheerfulness obviously hiding her otherwise snobby rich girl aura, Richards plays the character just right.
As her obsessed mother, Kirstie Alley ("For Richer or Poorer," TV's "Veronica's Closet") does a decent job, but unfortunately becomes more irritating and annoying than funny as the story progresses. Faring much better is Allison Janney ("Primary Colors," "Big Night") as Amber's surrogate mom and especially Ellen Barkin ("Sea of Love," "The Big Easy) in a delightful comedic turn as a trailer park inhabitant who literally always has a beer can in her hand (you'll have to see the film to really understand that).
Supporting performances are decent, from all of the other performers inhabiting the remaining contestants to Will Sasso (TV's "Mad TV") as the town "idiot" who's obviously destined to elicit both the most laughs and the ire of more politically correct viewers.
That pretty much sums of the film as well. While some may not appreciate the black and crude humor that obviously owes some reverence to the Farrelly brothers (and even "borrows" an arm gag from their pre-"Mary" film, "Kingpin"), everyone else will probably find the film quite silly and/or downright hilarious. We did, and thus give "Drop Dead Gorgeous" a 7.5 out of 10.