For her first-ever film, Brittany Rapone selected a mockumentary about a beauty contest. But since it wasn’t a terribly long film I figured that a short would be in order – and what could be more relevant to a beauty contest than Body Care And Grooming?
Of course, this was the good folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000’s take on an educational short designed to make sure that college students (college students) understand that they’ll never manage to nab a husband if their blouse isn’t tucked in properly. It’s a look at a different era, we’ll say that.
Britney’s film was Drop Dead Gorgeous, the 1999 mockumentary directed by Michael Patrick Jann, whom you’ve never heard of because he’s basically a television director. Now, I wanted to make a nice and snarky comment about how this film is basically a mash-up of Best In Show and Miss Congeniality, but it turns out that those are both films from the year 2000 (“From The Year 2000!!”) and as such oculd not have been the inspiration for Drop Dead Gorgeous. So maybe it really stands as its own film.
The mockumentary is documenting the fiftieth anniversary of the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant, which is held in the fictional Mount Rose, Minnesota and is a feeder contest for the State and National versions of the Sarah Rose Cosmetics…aw, hell, it’s basically Miss America, right? This particular local feeder contest is chaired by Kirstie Alley, who is a former winner and who in a conflict of interest that appears to have gone completely unremarked by the Mount Rose locals, has a teenage daughter competing in this very competition.
Her daughter is played by Denise Richards, and she has a nasty habit of coming in second in everything, including the indignity of being only the vice-president of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club. But Kirstie Alley has a few tricks up her sleeve to ensure that her daughter wins the beauty contest. First off, she stacks the judging panel (which she has the power to appoint) with a bunch of patsies (including one of her husband’s employees). And second off, there’s a mysterious tractor explosion that kills the frontrunner – and president of the gun club, of course.
The only other real competition would appear to be Kirsten Dunst, who holds an afterschool job applying makeup to corpses at the local funeral home and idolizes Diane Sawyer (the real Diane Sawyer – perhaps using the actor’s names in this writeup wasn’t such a great lazy idea after all). In addition to receiving some threatening messages, Dunst is shocked one day to pull back some sheets and find the body of a boy who had spurned Richards for herself, shot between the eyes in a hunting accident. Oddly enough right in the location where we see Richards lay in a grouping at the gun range. Weird.
And it doesn’t stop there. Dunst’s trailer home is destroyed in a mysterious explosion, permanently fusing her mother’s hand to a can of beer. Dunst want to drop out of the contest, but her mother won’t hear of it. How else will she get to be like Diane Sawyer? In the end, it appears that Dunst is probably a better choice – she’s prettier, she’s nicer, and when ambushed by the judges in a pre-pageant test, she is able to spell all fifty states in alphabetical order (the other girls got asked what kind of tree they’d like to be).
Also, this is Denise Richards’ talent act.
Despite the shortcomings of the competition things aren’t perfectly smooth. Dunst unintentionally changes numbers with a another contestant during practice and avoids being struck on the head by a falling stagelight (presumably sabotaged). And on top of that, her talent costume ends up being stolen just moments before she has to go on, and Kirstie Alley insists on following the letter of the law – all talent costumes must be approved one month in advance. Luckily for Dunst, another contestant intentionally drops out so Dunst can wear her preapproved costume, and Dunst’s tapdance routine is at least passable.
No matter. The judges vote for Richards anyway. (Actually, that’s not clear. If you note carefully, Alley – who opens the envelopes in yet another conflict of interest – doesn’t actually get the envelope all the way open before declaring her daughter the winner and Dunst the runner-up. But the judges don’t protest, so, who knows?)
All this means that Richards gets to ride on a supremely gaudy goose-shaped float procured by her father (from Mexico!) for the parade in honor of her winning. The explosion that kills her was pretty certainly not deliberately set by her mother. This is made pretty clear by the fact that the distraught Alley confesses to the murder of the first contestant and perhaps to the attempts on Dunst’s life. It’s a bit too incoherent of a rant to tell exactly what all she’s taking credit for. (For instance, I still suspect Richards of shooting the boy.)
But, on the bright side, this means that Dunst is the Mount Rose winner, and she gets to go to State, where she is hopelessly outmatched. Fortunately, her mother has left her with a bit of wisdom:
Mom always says, “Don’t ever eat nothin’ that can carry its house around with it. Who knows the last time it’s been cleaned.” …She should know
So no lobster at the pre-pageant party for Dunst…the only contestant not to go down with food poisoning. Thus, she wins by default and goes to Nationals. But, when the beauty queen bus arrives at the Sarah Rose Cosmetics HQ, they find that the company has just been raided by the IRS for tax evasion and the pageant is off. Permanently.
In a coda, a few years later Alley busts out of prison and goes all Charles Whitman on the town. A reporter is hit by a stray bullet and Dunst smoothly grabs the microphone and takes over, the first step on her path to becoming Diane Sawyer. The end.
All in all it’s a strange movie. It’s extremely funny at times and generally mostly funny the rest of the time. But it does a few things that break a bit of convention. The majority of the criminal (or not criminal) events in the film are never explained. Why did the float explode? Who did that? Was there sabotage in the food poisoning at State? Dunno. Dunst could (potentially) be quite the devious villain in this and we, like the documentary crew, would never know. To a point, that’s an asset of the film. I think that the mockumentary genre does suffer a bit (and this film is no exception) from the fact that the footage and the narrative created through it is just not the sort of thing you can expect to see in a true documentary. There’s a bit of acknowledgment of the premise throughout – folks talking to the camera crew, etc. – but the unsolved nature of most of the “mysteries” could be the best method of trying to add a touch of authenticity to the genre. That said, everything after the exploding swan float is such a tacked-on coda that it seems to almost not fit. Even if Nationals was never supposed to happen, it feels like Jann realized after all of the shooting that he had accidentally made a three-hour movie and decided to just slash the State contest a quarter of the way through. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s fun and worth seeing.