Sunday, March 16, 2014

Miss Congeniality


I have spent all morning on the phone with that dear little man, Alan Dershowitz. He has agreed to represent me in my continuing legal battle to present my new one-woman cabaret, Vicki on Ricki - the life and times of Ricki Lake without interference from Ewan McGregor. Ewan has developed a show of a somewhat similar nature for himself and his solicitors are claiming that continued performance of my piece would detract from his audience and earnings. They also claim that the public would be confused. As if I could be mistaken for a skinny redheaded Scotsman. This is America, land of the free, and I am looking forward to the battle of the media outlets and Court TV proceedings. I've already chosen a most fetching little black cocktail dress for my testimony. Besides, dear Ewan is going to look ridiculous as the early Ricki of Hairspray and Where The Day Takes You . I have him beat in the bust department and you can always tell padding.

Being a realist, I sobered Norman up enough this weekend to discuss my next show-biz venture in case the legal battle drags on for a while and I am unable to tour. He thinks I need to make the rounds of the talk shows and start winning in the court of public opinion. Madame Rose, my publicist, has already been on the phone negotiating appearances on some Fox News morning show where I will appear in a piece on Women whose jobs were stolen by less qualified men . The other guest is to be a Sally Lou Glutz from Moberly, Missouri; she lost her job managing the local Speedway truck stop in favor of the owner's brother in law.

Norman was about to belch and roll over for another nap when I demanded that we keep our usual Sunday matinee appointment. He reluctantly put on his new smoking jacket and we went off to the local cineplex for a divertissement. This week's selection was Miss Congeniality starring Sandra Bullock as an FBI agent who must infiltrate a beauty pageant in order to protect the beauty queens, motherhood and apple pie from a mad terrorist bomber. Miss Bullock is listed as producer and obviously chose the material to show off her gifts as a comedienne and her ability to do the ugly duckling/swan bit to a tee.

Unfortunately, Miss Bullock, the producer, should have allocated a bit more money to the writing department. This is one of those films where every plot development and character twist is telegraphed hours in advance and where most of the writing seems to have been done by committee with an eye on focus groups. While the script does have a few good lines and lots of great shtick for her and for her strong supporting cast, the plot is full of loose ends and quick character changes that are never explained. Promising ideas are floated and abandoned in favor of the easy laugh.

Michael Caine, Candace Bergen and William Shatner, all old pros, are given great roles as a queeney pageant consultant, an ex-beauty queen pageant supervisor and the thick headed MC and you can see them straining at the bit to do more with the material than they're allowed, so as not to upstage Ms. Bullock. The tone of the piece is also uncertain. While on the one hand, there are all the obvious swipes at airhead contestants and cheesy production numbers, there is a wish to stay anchored in reality and to make the contestants strong women and the two views never really gel. I would have liked it better if they'd let Shatner, Caine and Bergen go really over the top and chew the scenery a bit, but that would have overwhelmed Sandra Bullock's patented brand of nice girl comedy. It would take someone like Tracy Ullman to hold her own with that crew playing broadly.

On the plus side, Sandra Bullock creates a winning character in Grace Hart, and pulls off the transformation from galumphing officer to graceful beauty queen relatively well, with the help of an impressive, yet subtle make-up design. There are also lots of nice slice-of-life comic moments sprinkled throughout. Benjamin Bratt, as the love interest/partner, looks pretty, and provides the testosterone quotient necessary to drag most men into what will be seen as a 'chick flick' but isn’t given much of a character to play. He seems to exist mainly to provide a love interest and to take off his shirt.

Michael Caine, as the gay pageant consultant who plays Henry Higgins to Sandra Bullock's Eliza, isn't given enough to do and seems to have phoned in his performance in some scenes. I think some of this was directorial choice not to allow the camp quotient to get too high. William Shatner has a great time parodying both himself and the Bert Parks school of pageant performing. His ‘singing’ of the 'Miss United States' theme song is a wonderful moment spoofing his well-known golden throat.

This is not a film to add to the collection, but there are worse ways to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon when there’s nothing else on HBO.

Musical water glasses. Bavarian costumes. Exploding tiara. Gratuitous 'Midnight Cowboy' joke. Flaming batons. Glow in the dark paints. Gratuitous 'Queen of the Night' aria. Self defense demonstrations. Hidden donuts.

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