Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
|Featuring:||Minnie Driver, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Joey Lauren Adams, Ali Landry, Leslie Ann Stefanson|
|Producer:||John Bertolli, B J Rack|
Mona Hibbard has always known what it was to be beautiful. It meant that you were crowned Miss USA and had lots of money, friends, and popularity. Ever since her childhood, seated in front of that tiny black and white screen watching as the most beautiful women in the nation walked down that narrow strip, Mona has wanted to become one of them. Working as a grocery girl part-time, she invests her savings in having her teeth fixed and entering local beauty pageants.
Her mother is a mentally-withdrawn smoker who thinks her daughter is an idiot because her vocabulary isn’t very strong and her wardrobe needs serious help. Her stepfather is a crabby, perhaps-abusive alcoholic that all the kids in the neighborhood are afraid of. But Mona still continues to enter pageants, although she never wins. Finally fate smiles on her and one day she meets up with the geeky, but brilliant Ruby, a forth-grade whiz in sewing class. With Ruby’s help in designing clothes, Mona begins to climb the scales. But her ways of winning leave much to be desired. Her angry attitude toward her competitors results in having her booted from the running in one competition, when she purposely puts glue on one of the girls’ batons.
That evening Mona confesses in tears that she’s pregnant. Miss USA cannot be a legal guardian or have a child. Ruby assures her that they will figure something out… seven years pass and we are introduced to a beautiful little girl who looks a great deal like Mona. But the sleeve she’s tugging belongs to Ruby. “Momma! Momma, I have to go to the bathroom!” Ruby shushes her as Mona is awarded Miss Illinois. Afterward the threesome visit a restaurant, in which Mona signs autographs and we learn how much little Vanessa dislikes the beauty queen.
The kind and gentle Ruby works at a senior care center, where she is the delight of all the patients. But unknown to her, one little old lady has been collecting pills from her nightly stash, intending to use them to commit suicide. When an investigation is made into the woman’s death, it’s deemed a “mercy killing” and Ruby is placed under arrest until a court and jury can determine whether or not she is guilty. This leaves Vanessa in the care of her “Aunt Mona,” and the beauty queen on her own as the big night approaches. But at the top it can be dangerous; Mona must care for a child she never has accepted as her own while maintaining her image, little knowing that an old enemy has returned to settle a score…
It never ceases to amaze me how Hollywood works in stages; it’s almost as if they got together and planned what kind of a movie they would release next. Or maybe someone at Tri Star leaked news about Miss Congeniality and so the competing companies struggled to see if they could come up with something better. Whatever the reason, “beauty movies” have come in hordes as of late. Unlike the cruel “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and even the witty, but insecure “Miss Congeniality”, “Beautiful” has a good heart.
It sets the stage well for Mona’s mentally-abused childhood, from a stepfather that “wanders” into her room by mistake to a mother who shows no interest or pride in her daughter’s achievements and dreams for the future. This, as a result, severely challenges Mona’s own ability to love. As Vanessa says one day about orphans, not being loved makes them incapable of loving other people; they turn out purely selfish.
As the days pass, Mona begins to realize that her life has been one lie from the beginning, a mix-match of bad choices and irresponsibility, and she risks it all to do the right thing in the end. Ruby is the perfect example of selfless friendship and love; she is the true woman of the hour, showing Christian responsibilities and love throughout (although religion is never mentioned). The film isn’t a laugh-fest—in fact only a few moments of irony are included and much involves us in a love / hate relationship with Mona’s character, whose soul desire is to get to the top. It reveals a great deal about the insecurity and dog-eat-dog world of beauty.
Held up against its counterparts, “Beautiful” is also the cleanest of the three pageant films. There is some innuendo and, of course, immodesty in the clothing that the contestants wear. (One brief shot shows half-dressed girls in their dressing room, and a woman with her hands over her breasts as another helps her into a tight chemise.) This itself makes it less than suitable for the male palate, who wouldn’t appreciate the premise anyway. Mona has a child out of wedlock, but we never even see her boyfriend. Language is limited, which makes the use of an f-word toward the end so surprising and unfortunate. Other than the aforementioned expletive, there are a half dozen uses of minor profanities like “d-mn” and “hell,” and three abuses of God’s name coupled with profanity.
Perhaps not perfect by any means and lacking a bit in good humor, but the film’s appreciation for the responsibilities of childhood and the overall nature of pageants themselves make it “Beautiful.”