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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie has occasional strong language and sexual references (mild by PG-13 standards, but still vivid). Mona cheats in the pageants, causing serious damage to another contestent's hand, without any remorse. Indeed the injured woman's bitterness is portrayed with as much callousness as though the screenwriter shared Mona's conviction that all that counts is winning. There is an out of wedlock pregnancy and a minor character commits suicide by taking pills.
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What's the story?
Mona is a little girl who lives with a mother who does not seem to care much about her and with her mother's out-of-work boyfriend, who does not like her at all. So, she makes her bedroom into a private world, decorated with cheery little signs that say things like, "Never give up!" and "U can do it!" For her, beauty pageants are a vision of perfection, grace, and validation. So, she decides that what she needs to make her feel beautiful and loved is to win one or maybe all of them. She earns money for lessons and braces and does statistical analysis of each year's winners. She picks just one girl from school to be her friend -- the one who can sew costumes for her. When she grows up, Mona (Minnie Driver) is relentless. She is incapable of any thought that does not relate to winning a pageant. Her friend Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams) is happy to devote all of her efforts to Mona's competitions, too. When obstacles arise, Ruby takes care of them, from smoothing over allegations of cheating at a pageant to becoming the mother of Mona's child (Hallie Eisenberg). A parent or guardian is ineligible to be Miss American Miss. And nothing must get in Mona's way.
Is it any good?
Driver does her best, but, sadly, she gets no help from BEAUTIFUL's producers (14 of them!). She gets no help from the screenwriter, whose only previous credit was Jerry Springer's "Ringmaster." Driver does not even get much help from first-time feature director (but two-time Best Actress) Sally Field. The people in this movie can't even be referred to as "characters" because they do not behave like any human being who ever thought, spoke, or breathed. The actors might as well be wearing signs that say, "Plot device!" as they are moved around the set like chess pieces, because that is the only possible explanation for their behavior. And basic elements of plot are slapdash or just missing. In other words, this is a bad movie.
The movie has some funny moments. Kathleen Turner is magnificent as a beauty pageant diva. One pageant contestant announces that she has a double degree in genetic engineering and cosmetology, and another has a ventriloquist act. When a woman goes into labor in a grocery store, Mona seizes the opportunity to get some good publicity and pushes her to the hospital in a shopping cart, singing, "Wind Beneath My Wings." But these bright spots are just not worth the sloppy mess that comes along. Maybe sixty years ago Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins or Mary Astor might have pulled off this kind of a plot (come to think of it, they did, in The Big Lie and Old Acquaintance). Maybe 30 years ago, Carol Burnett could have pulled off a parody version. But with these people and in this decade, it is not just bad -- it is positively annoying.
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For kids who love dramas
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