1999 | Michael Patrick Jann
The sexualisation of women begins when young girls aren’t even mature yet. There is a societal model in which all women must grow up to be beautiful, and they better start in high school otherwise it will never come. Drop Dead Gorgeous explores the side-effects, both good and bad, of forcing a life such as this onto girls, implanting the image there is no way around it. Set in rural Minnesota, a documentary crew sets out to document the upcoming Mount Rose Miss Teen America Pageant, the winner of which gains automatic qualification in the Miss Teen Minnesota Pageant, and so on and so forth.
Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) is an incredibly modest teenager whom enters the pageant, in the hopes of following in the footsteps of her idols, Diane Sawyer (ABC World News and the 1963’s Miss Junior Miss Kentucky) and her mother, a former contestant in the same pageant. She is up against Rebecca Leeman (Denise Richards), the daughter of former winner and pageant organiser Gladys (Kirstie Alley), her best friend Lisa (Brittany Murphy), the over-sexed, vacant-minded Leslie (Amy Adams), as well as a variety of other girls. It’s no surprise Rebecca (or Becky) dominates the competition, despite a cringe-worthy performance of Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, and with a string of convenient setbacks for Amber, it’s not hard to see something is amiss.
The film is a biting satire of an issue which seemingly goes blameless in certainly one of the largest factors of female teenage life. What is so disappointing is how formulaic the film is, as well as its over-simplification of its material, material clever enough to force us to reassess the way we observe such customs. Roger Ebert wrote about the film, “It’s the movie that somehow never achieves takeoff speed.” The script is sharp, witty and one can imagine would be awfully funny to read. While there are certainly laughs to be had while watching, director Michael Patrick Jann certainly failed in translating from text to screen.
Events are exaggerated, with comedy forming from tragedy, when a character is comically blown up whilst riding a ride-on mower on her farm, another has a beer can fused to her hand, and a large number of girls contract a very, very serious case of seafood-related food poisoning. Amusing to read, and while the concept certainly transfers itself well, ultimately it’s the execution which stops the humour flat. For the majority the film is still quite amusing, but certain things become awkward, or off-putting instead of humorous and the film does suffer from an over-exposure to over-exposed, under-developed characters.
Kirsten Dunst is one of a few in the talented cast which propel the film more than expected, with pitch-perfect delivery rivalled only by another charming Brittany Murphy’s performance. When things begin to accelerate and emotions begin to run high, there is no shortage of believable talent, which is a saviour of sorts for the film, but ultimately, as a whole, its reliance on simplicity and “cheap laughs” is what holds the film back from being a true criticism of the “Miss Teen” pageantry.