FILM OF THE MONTH

From April 2001
Film Review

Also recommended: BEST IN SHOW
other March releases

Film Review Hotline
MISS CONGENIALITY
4 Stars; Recommended

Sandra Bullock with your host, William Shatner

My Fair FBI Agent

STARS: Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen, William Shatner,
Michael Caine

DIRECTOR: Donald Petrie
SCREENPLAY:
Marc Lawrence
CERTIFICATE: 12
DISTRIBUTOR and Image copyright:
Warner Bros
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 49mins
OPENING DATE (UK): March 23

It’s hard to think of a Sandra Bullock performance that hasn’t been enjoyable (bar her early stint as the Bionic Girl). She is the gal next door. The one you want to be your friend; sassy, feisty, funny, not stick thin, someone you’d want to share a pint with – male or female.

Miss Congeniality is no exception. She zings in this blackly comic dalliance with the phenomenon of the American beauty pageant, which is more mainstream than last year’s excellent pseudo-documentary Drop Dead Gorgeous but equally good.

Bullock is FBI agent Gracie Hart, stuck in a serious bad hair year with zero interest in her physical appearance or feminine attributes. She eats like a masticating cow, burps like a barman and snorts like a pig. So when her rather sexy colleague Eric Matthews (Bratt) has to recruit an agent to go undercover at a Miss America Pageant, Sandy is the last person he has in mind. Meanwhile, the terrorist threatening the contest with silicone explosives keeps banging on with anonymous letters. In desperation, Bratt gives Bullock a chance.

Cue the employment of Michael Caine as the subtly gay and preening pageant expert Victor Melling. He very begrudgingly takes on Sandra and tries to make her into a lady. Armed with her heels, newly waxed bikini line and two eyebrows instead of the one, Sandy enters the Miss US contest scoffing at the “World Peace, Two Piece Swimsuit” ethic of a bunch of beauty “airheads”.

In the course of her transformation from anti-femme to femme fatale, Bratt inevitably decides she’s a bit of a babe and she gradually discovers her own femininity, as well as the fact that her fellow contestants aren’t all Barbie. Thus her preconceptions and attitude to life are confounded.

But this isn’t nearly as cheesy as it sounds. Grumpy Old Men director Donald Petrie maintains his send up spoof of all things Miss World throughout; from botched Busby Berkley numbers to Bullock’s talent slot playing tunes on empty wine glasses. Meanwhile, Petrie manages to incorporate genuine emotion, sentiment and a convincing sexual frisson between Bullock and Bratt.

Caine is hysterical as Melling and looks like he’s having a ball, relishing his tiny camp touches with twinkling eyes and a wicked grin. Sadly his beauty pageant peers Candice Bergen and William Shatner fail to find his capacity for understatement and both over-egg the pudding, making their moments as organizers of the competition the only sticky points in the film.

Miss Congeniality is terrific entertainment. Feel good, funny, feminist – it’s great US box-office should prove a precursor to its success here. And it’s a sign of a good commercial film that it manages to take the mickey out of itself and its protagonists while still making a contemporary point and proving an emotionally enjoyable experience. So if the title and the premise make you think ‘ick’ – ignore. It really is great fun.

Lórien Haynes

Read our massive reviews section in this month's Film Review
Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

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4 Stars; Recommended
BEST IN SHOW • released March 09

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