innocent_man: (drama)
[personal profile] innocent_man
Drop Dead Gorgeous is a black comedy starring Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Kirstie Alley, Allison Janney, Amy Adams and the late Brittany Murphy. Dunst, Richards, Adams, Murphy and others are the pretty teenage girls of Mount Rose, Minnesota and are competing to be Miss Teen America. Amber Atkins (Dunst) just kind of wants to get out of town and be a reporter; the pageant is a possible stepping stone to that, but really she just wants to do her trailer-trash, chain-smoking mom (Ellen Barkin) and her mom's best friend (Janney) proud with her tap routine. Alley is Gladys Leeman, a former pageant winner, and her daughter (Richards) is the current front-runner for the title...and they're willing to kill to keep it that way.

The movie is shot as a documentary, and it stays true to its concept; we don't see footage that the cream doesn't actually shoot (unlike District 9). The crew exposes the truth of the town (everyone is horrible, the Leemans own the place and have utterly rigged the competition, which makes the people they murder and maim all the more tragic).

The pageant ends as everyone knows it will - despite Becky Leeman's (Richards) horrible performance of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" while polka-dancing with a giant stuffed Jesus (seriously, why would I make that up?) as compared to Amber's show-stopping tap routine (in a borrowed outfit complete with top hat, for a kind of Marlene Dietrich sort of look), Becky wins the pageant. Amber accepts this as stoically as she can, but is then crowed anyway when Becky dies in a freak accident, and her mother confesses to the murder of an earlier contestant. Although the national pageant is cancelled (the cosmetics company sponsoring it was shut down by the IRS), Amber winds up finding her dream as a reporter anyway, as she grabs a microphone when a reporter is shot when Gladys escapes prison and shoots up the town. Whew.

Black comedy is hard. It's easy just to be horrible and let that be "funny." Very Bad Things does that, for instance, and it's just too much. This movie is full of horrible people, but the people who are good aren't saintly, they're just decent and honest, which is nice. That'd be Amber, Loretta (Janney), Amber's mother, Lisa (Amy Adams, as the ditzy, hyper-sexual cheerleader) and the other girls.

The movie is funny because it takes itself just seriously enough for the stakes to matter in context, but also never lets you forget that people are killing each other over a rigged, small-town beauty pageant. It kind of makes me squirm that everyone smokes, but eh, 90s movie (and it's actually a plot point in some places). The most cringe-worthy bit is actually not Becky's Jesus-dance, but last year's winner (Alexandra Holden) being pushed around in a wheelchair (she's so anorexic she can barely breathe) lip-synching to "Don't Cry Out Loud."

If I have a complaint, it's that we don't see enough of what makes Becky tick. We get the sense that she's just as horrible as her mother (she murders a boy who hits on Amber, after all), but she also is a vehicle for her mother's failed ambition, and we only see the barest hints of friction there. It's there, just a little more of her being the real Becky (rather than the saccharine version she displays) would have been cool.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium-high.

Next up: Drumline

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January 2013

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