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The infamous Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant,
This review is from: Drop Dead Gorgeous [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
I am perfectly willing to argue that "Drop Dead Gorgeous" is the final part of the 1990s "Drop Dead" trilogy that began with 1991's "Drop Dead Fred" and included "1996's "Drop Dead Rock." Unlike most trilogies these films are done by different directors with entirely different characters. "Drop Dead Fred" was directed by Ate de Jong and had Phoebe Cates as a young woman who has to deal with a problematic imaginary childhood friend. "Drop Dead Rock" from director Adam Dubin was about a garage rock band that kidnaps a famous rock star. Then we have director Michael Patrick Jann's "Drop Dead Gorgeous," which is about the 50th anniversary of the nation's oldest beauty pageant, The Sarah Rose Cosemetics American Teen Princess Pageant. A documentary film crew was sent to the small Minnesota town of Mount Rose to commemorate this occasion, and "Drop Dead Gorgeous" tells of the path of death and destruction that the pageant left in its wake.
Written by Lona Williams, who apparently endured such pageants in her own past, "Drop Dead Gorgeous" takes great dead panned joy in skewering the contestants, their mothers, and the whole pageant process. Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley) is not only the chair of the local pageant, she is a former winner, and the mother of Becky Ann Leeman (Denise Richards), who is the favorite (they are the rich family in town, because of Leeman's Furniture). On the other end of the spectrum is Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), who lives with her mother Annette (Ellen Barkin) in the trailer park, and has an afterschool job where she can practice her tapdancing talent, doing cosmetics at the local funeral home. There are other girls in the contest, including a dark haired, giggling, Brittany Murphy as Lisa Swenson, but the cursing choreographer (Mary Gillis) for the pageant says she would bet money it comes down to Becky Ann and Amber, and given the ferocity their mothers bring to the contest, we have no doubt she is right. Dunst and Richards are recognizable stars, which is another hint, but given that one of the three judges works at the furniture store (screenwriter Williams) and another has been hired to paint the furniture store (Michael McShane), the competition could be over before it starts. The third judge? Well, he (Matt Malloy) likes to look at young girls.
As the film proceeds you come to understand there is an implicit coma in the title as some of the girls start dropping dead. Tammy Curtis beat out Becky Leeman for president of the Lutheran Girls Gun Club and when you see what happened to her you begin to think that maybe the fix is in. So as we watch the girls prepare for their big day and Amber starts figuring out that she might be next. Amber wants to get out of Mount Royal and be a big reporter like Diane Sawyer, but being dead would not help. We also continue to learn about the local history of the pageant, such as Mary Johanson (Alexandra Holden), reigning local pageant winner, now staying at the Eating Disorders wing of the local hospital.
This 1999 film will remind a lot of viewers about about "Fargo," what with the Minnesota accents and the quirky characters, not to mention the Lutherans and the lutefisk. Kirstie Alley pours in on the most, but her character and performance are cleary the most over the top in the film. Allison Janney plays Loretta, Annette Atkins' best friend, and has lots of fun letting her character go. In the end "Drop Dead Gorgeous" is not a classic mockumentary, on a level with "Zelig" or "A Mighty Wind," but it does has its moments. However, it plays close to the end a lot of the time (e.g., Annette's beer can after the fire), and you may well find that bits of it go too far. If you feel obligated to change the word "mental retard" to "moron" in your trailer, then you should probably have made a point of taking it out of the movie as well. Fortunately, Dunst manages to play it straight at the heart of this film and keep it from getting too far out of hand. This is one of her finest performances.