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Kirsten Dunst (center) is one of the contestants in ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ from 1999.

Mr. Movie: Beauty pageants

Beauty pageants are ingrained into our national fabric, whether we like it or not. There are several excellent films using beauty contests as a backdrop, most of them with tongue firmly in cheek.


Smile (1975) is a hilarious spoof of the whole idea of beauty contests, presented here as a symbol for middle class emptiness. Bruce Dern and Barbara Feldon lead a good cast in a well-written film that is almost painfully funny at times.

Holly Hunter marvelously recreates her stage role. 


Miss Firecracker (1989). Hunter convinces us she is lonely and pitiful (that’s acting!) and she sees the local beauty pageant as a way to escape her drab existence. Gentler and sweeter than Smile, but also lots of fun.


Sandra Bullock plays a tomboy klutz who is somehow an FBI agent and who goes undercover as a beauty contestant in Miss Congeniality (2000). The cast is fine, especially Michael Caine, but the screenplay gives them very little to work with.


Happy, Texas (1999) is the site of a kiddie beauty contest, run by Jeremy Northam and Steve Zahn. They are actually escaped convicts trying to keep a low profile. But they have stolen the van of the contest operators and the townspeople expect them to put on a pageant. Very funny.


Abigail Breslin is the youngest member of a seriously dysfunctional family in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). The whole group is headed for California in an ancient VW bus so she can appear in a beauty contest for tots. Alan Arkin won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and the screenplay also won. Hilarious and wildly inventive!


Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) is one of those hidden gems Mr. Movie loves to find for you. Although the story is somewhat over the top, it has its charms. For one thing, it is Amy Adams’ first movie. For another, it has a great cast with Kirsten Dunst. Allison Janney, Kirstey Alley and Ellen Barkin. The small town of Mount Rose, Minnesota, is preparing for its annual Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant (whew). Amber Atkins (Dunst) aspires to be the next Diane Sawyer and sees the pageant as a good springboard. Strange things, including death, start happening to contestants and their backers. One contestant is killed when her cut-rate parade float blows up.


Actually, the best movie about beauty pageants isn’t about people at all, it’s about dogs. Best In Show (2000) is a laugh-out-loud send-up of big dog shows.  Fred Willard is just incredibly funny as a dim sportscaster who knows absolutely nothing about dogs but does not let that stop him from incessantly blabbing stupid comments. 


All of the movies in this column are available on DVD. All are suitable for children 10 and over.