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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Miss Arizona is a comedy about a group of women who meet in an unlikely way and wind up on an all-night adventure. Content is generally appropriate for young teens, though there is a scene in which a character buys marijuana. She notes that "it's legal now" (in California, where the film takes place), but she buys it from a private seller rather than a legal dispensary (causing another character to suggest she's paying for it with sexual favors) and says that it's medicinal. Viewers don't see her, or anyone else, smoke the pot, though one character lights and smokes a cigarette theatrically in one scene. Although many characters come from abusive backgrounds, violence isn't frequent -- but there is a scene in which a terrified woman with a black eye is chased and fired at by her abusive ex. And a man slaps a woman in the face in another scene, furious at a deception she's committed. Language incudes "ass," "bitch," "damn," and "douche bag." Characters are humanized over time, but there are still a few iffy stereotypes: A character makes a racist "Confucius Say" joke in a stereotypical Asian voice, a thin woman somewhat proudly tells others that she's never eaten junk food because her mother very strictly controlled her weight, etc. But ultimately characters demonstrate compassion and teamwork, and messages of female empowerment and kindness are clear.
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What's the story?
Rose Raynes (Johanna Braddy) was crowned MISS ARIZONA 15 years ago -- and it's been downhill ever since. Now she's marooned in a luxury Los Angeles home with her disinterested (and possibly unfaithful) husband, Rick (Kyle Howard), and their growing son, who's increasingly independent. But when Rose accepts an invitation to teach a class at a local women's shelter, she meets women who have much more to contend with: There's down-on-her-luck Jasmine (Shoniqua Shandai), abused wife/mom Leslie (Robyn Lively), tough Maybelle (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), and brutalized-into-muteness Sammy (Otmara Marrero). Together the five women end up embarking on a wild all-night adventure in an attempt to help Leslie locate her missing kids. They eventually land in a drag club, where Rose's pageant skills have new relevance -- and the women discover that sometimes the best thing they can do for themselves is to help someone else.
Is it any good?
Sweet and charming, if a bit predictable, this gentle comedy is at its best when the main characters work together to take care of business. OK, yes, you can poke enormous gaping holes in the film's logic: What kind of women's shelter is cool with its residents taking off for all-night hijinks? And we're supposed to believe that one woman's domestic violence nightmare will be solved if she can just make it to another state? Most of all, what human being with a set of eyes can buy Braddy as a drag queen, particularly up on a stage surrounded by genuine queens (and Drag Race escapees) like Ginger Minj (Joshua Allan Eads)? But if suspension of disbelief doesn't come easily, affection for Miss Arizona's characters and the lovable actors portraying them does.
The cast is much better than viewers might expect from such a humble indie, and they have genuine chemistry together. Braddy is heart-tuggingly lost as an underloved trophy wife and touchingly sincere in her desire to do something, anything for the women that fate has thrown her together with. Wheeler-Nicholson is all sharp-eyed wit, Shandai emits a stream of hilarious bluster, and it's a revelation to watch the supremely sympathetic Lively, whom viewers may remember best from her lead role in 1980's camp classic Teen Witch. Even though their adventures together are slightly ridiculous, these women aren't -- you'll root for them and for this endearing, sisterly story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about stereotypes. Would you consider any of Miss Arizona's characters stereotypical? How? Why do you think filmmakers fall back on using common character types? Which characters transcend their stereotypes in this movie? Do any of these characters make worthy role models?
How does the movie portray female friendship? Does it seem realistic? Does it surprise you to learn that this movie's (female) writer/director Autumn McAlpin took pains to use only music by female artists and to hire a behind-the-scenes crew that was more than 70% women and people of color? Since viewers may not notice these touches, does it matter?
- In theaters: July 12, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 27, 2019
- Cast: Johanna Braddy, Robyn Lively, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson
- Director: Autumn McAlpin
- Studio: Cinedigm
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion, Teamwork
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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