Miss Congeniality

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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Caine, William Shatner

Director: Donald Petrie

FBI Special Agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is her job. When she’s not tracking dodgy Russian Mafiosi she’s perfecting her wrestling technique with the other guys from the Fed or working out at home to Salt n Pepa on her punch bag. She’s not the groomed-to-the cuticle all-American modern woman. And in Hollywood we know that means she’s got to die…

Well not exactly! Agent Hart is in the doghouse having messed up one assignment and to make up for it her bosses propose she go undercover as a Miss America beauty pageant contestant. They’re trying to catch a unibomber-styled terrorist who’s threatened to target the San Antonio beauty competition. Agent Hart is the only suitable Agent because she’s the only under-35 year old who isn’t on maternity leave.

Hart is not amused – “It’s as if feminism never happened”! and beauty contests are for people with a “misogynistic, Neanderthal mentality”. But in this post-feminist world we almost live in (?) women could re-claim the pageant for themselves. Don’t we all want to prance about in swimsuits talking about world peace and mastering our baton management? Maybe not. And if you’re looking into answers to that one you wouldn’t expect a light-hearted comedy to provide any profound solutions to that one.

MISS CONGENIALITY is a formula makeover movie. A mix of MY FAIR LADY with PRETTY WOMAN. It could use every cliche in the book. There’s unashamed product placement, a tough black FBI boss, a cheeky but loveable Latino sidekick, gags jokes about removing bikini lines and Michael Caine as a gay makeover agent. It sounds awful, but there are some very funny moments and William Shatner and Candice Bergen as the beauty pageant comperes are amusing baddies. Hell hath no fury like a former beauty pageant contestant spurned and all that….

We know that Sandra’s going to scrub up nicely and that we’re supposed to like her more when she’s discovered her feminine side. As well as starring in MISS CONGENIALITY, Sandra Bullock has produced this movie, which shows she’s continuing to broaden her sights. I’m still not comfortable with the institution that is “Miss America” , but more powerful roles for women in Hollywood is a good thing for all of us.

3 out of 6 stars