The battle between the good and the bad is bound to get ugly.
Drop Dead Gorgeous wasn't a movie I wanted to see. Beauty pageants just aren't my bag. The brand of girls who participate in these things just don't appeal to me—the ones with fake tans, fake boobs, fake bleach-blonde hair. Just not my thing. But, my wife wanted to see it, so rent it we did.
About two minutes into the movie, I found myself laughing uncontrollably. Milk-coming-outta-my-nose laughing. Why? Because…
…there's an advertisement for Drop Dead Gorgeous's fictitious beauty pageant, hosted by Adam West. No one ever told me Adam West was in Drop Dead Gorgeous! Maybe I've just seen one too many episodes of The Simpsons, but to me Adam West represents the height of pop culture lampooning. (In case you're totally sheltered, Adam West was the iconic Batman of the 1960s camp classic. Now that I had to explain the joke to you, you've ruined my enjoyment of it. Thanks a lot.) When I ceased laughing and cleaned myself up, I prepared myself to genuinely enjoy the movie.
Drop Dead Gorgeous is shot like a documentary, following a pageant in a small town in Minnesota. The setting is irrelevant, except as an excuse to force the actors to affect stereotypical "Minnesota" accents (yeah, you betcha). Repeated viewings of Fargo were the dialect coach. It's the kind of town you'd find anywhere, at least in Kansas or Idaho, full of lives that went nowhere, where there's fancy digs and trailer parks two blocks from each other, where people are born and live and die without venturing more than a hundred miles from their home. The beauty pageant is a ticket out of town for the hopeful girls who participate. Win, and you can be successful, a model or a Liza Minelli impersonator. Lose, and you're forever stuck there.
So, this documentary crew is there to chronicle this pageant. We meet the contestants. The two frontrunners are Becky Leeman (Denise Richards—Wild Things, The World Is Not Enough) and Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst—Small Soldiers, Dick). The two are from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Becky comes from the richest family in town. Her mother (Kirstie Alley—Look Who's Talking, Look Who's Talking Too, Look Who's Talking Now) is the pageant organizer, and doesn't disguise her partiality. The judges, conveniently, are all affiliated with her father's furniture store. The cards are stacked against the poor girl, Amber. She works in the school cafeteria during school hours, and in the afternoon she works in the morgue. She shares a trailer with her beautician mother (Ellen Barkin—Sea Of Love, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas).
Accidents can happen, I suppose, but to contestants in the same pageant? A tractor one of the girls is riding blows up. Someone bombs Amber's trailer. A stage light falls on the head of another contestant. Everything points to Becky trying to eliminate her competition…and Amber is the target. On the pageant night, Amber's tap dance costume disappears, and the rules (conveniently enforced by Becky's mom) prohibit her from wearing an "unapproved" costume. Fortunately, the other girls hate Becky enough to want to help Amber…but I don't want to give away too much.
Looking back over what I've written, I realize I began by saying how absurdly funny the movie was, and then I turn around and make it sound incredibly like a TV movie-of-the-week. The absurd comedy wasn't just limited to an appearance by Adam West; it continues for the duration. In his review, Roger Ebert said the comedy worked on paper, but not on the screen. I find quite the opposite to be true: I can't find the words to make the images sound humorous. A beer can fused to a hand. The church-sponsored women's gun club. A hundred vomiting girls. A flaming parade float. A girl in a poodle skirt dancing with a blow-up doll version of Jesus on a cross. I never went five minutes without busting a gut. The filmmakers have the same sort of perverted sense of humor and perfectly balanced sense of parody that make the goofiest satires work—Kingpin or the Austin Powers movies spring to mind. But, unlike Austin Powers or most of the Farrelly Brothers' comedy, Drop Dead Gorgeous can be very mean-spirited. I didn't really feel that it was necessary to make Becky's father such a racist, or to poke as much fun at the town's "retard," or run the gag quite as long making light of the previous winner's anorexia. In a more positive sense, unlike movies told in a conventional narrative fashion, the documentary conceit gives the filmmakers the opportunity to package their gags as perfectly normal events, without your typical flag-waving, "look at me, I made a funny!" sort of attitude.
The lead actresses of Drop Dead Gorgeous are far from being my favorites (with the exception of Kirsten Dunst), but they all manage to be credible and watchable. Denise Richards…what can I say about Denise Richards? No other actress in this world has made a career based more on their breast size and dental work than their talent than Denise Richards. I didn't mean that as a compliment. She essentially plays the same character here as she did in Wild Things, only without shedding her shirt. She can't act, but she's playing a beauty pageant contestant so all she has to do is smile and look perky. Kirstie Alley has a smile that turns my stomach, but she seems completely at home in the shoes of Denise Richards' disingenuous mother. My choices out of her filmography listed previously will probably indicate how I feel about her. Looking through Ellen Barkin's list of films, I don't think I've seen a single one. I can say this: she's remarkably adept at playing trailer trash. I meant that as a compliment. The one actress here that I unabashedly like is Kirsten Dunst. She made a flashy rise to stardom with her wonderful performance as an ageless vampire trapped in the body of a young girl in Interview With The Vampire. (Reviewing anecdote: My wife and I rented two movies at the same time. She picked Drop Dead Gorgeous, I picked Interview With The Vampire. It made for an interesting Kirsten Dunst double feature.) She played the epitome of a vapid teenager in Dick, and nailed the part perfectly. The effervescence she brought to that role comes through here, only not in quite such an idiotic way.
Drop Dead Gorgeous is a typically high-quality New Line production, though it's not part of their "Platinum Series," so it's not as feature-laden. The movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and full-frame on a single dual-layered side. Picture quality is uniformly excellent—strong, accurate colors; no digital artifacting; minimal edge enhancement or NTSC artifacts. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is mostly confined to the front three channels. The rears are not used extensively, and I only noticed the LFE meter twitch during the movie's two explosions and during a tap dance sequence. How can you go wrong with a movie that uses the subwoofer during tap dancing? Extras are limited to a theatrical trailer and DVD-ROM access to the screenplay.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A few more extras might have sweetened the deal, but (as always) New Line nails it where it counts: audio and video.
Maybe you think Denise Richards and Kirstie Alley are fine thespians. I don't. Fortunately, liking the actresses isn't necessary to your enjoyment of Drop Dead Gorgeous, because they're the most despicable characters in the film. Kirstie Alley should make another talking-baby movie, only this one should be entitled Who The Hell Is Talking This Time? It could feature the talking furniture from Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Maybe it would keep John Travolta employed after the travesty to humankind that is Battlefield Earth.
Drop Dead Gorgeous makes an excellent rental, and potentially a purchase pending your enjoyment. Its $24.99USD suggested price is on the high side, considering that New Line's Platinum Series discs are the same price, and there's not nearly as much extra content as on Blade or other titles in that series.
Since I made mention of it in my review, I've included a link to Roger Ebert's review. Rereading it, I wonder if I saw the same movie he did. He makes several factual errors about the characters in the movie. Geez, I don't make his salary and at least I pay attention.
All involved are acquitted. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Theatrical Trailer
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