Directed by Sally Field
Review by Matt Heffernan <email@example.com>
Yes, Sally Field, we like you. We really like you. That doesn't mean, however, that we want you to direct. The Flying Gidget has directed her first theatrical feature with two TV movies already under her belt. What started out looking pretty good eventually turned really ugly, despite the film's title.
All her life, Mona Hibbard has wanted to be a beauty queen. At 12, she paid for her own braces and started hitting the circuit. She found no success until she met Ruby, a girl who liked to sew, and offered to make her a dress. With this new found friendship, and some training from Verna Chickle (Kathleen Turner) at the academy, she moved her way up. Her dreams were dashed, however, when she became pregnant, but Ruby was generous enough to raise the child as her own.
Seven years later, Mona (Minnie Driver) has won the title of Miss Illinois, qualifying her for the Miss American Miss pageant. She lives with Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams) and her daughter, Vanessa (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), who still thinks that she's Ruby's daughter. Before the pageant begins, Ruby is arrested when a woman she cared for at the nursing home overdoses on sleeping pills. Instead of leaving Vanessa with somebody else, Mona takes her along, but must hide the fact that she's her daughter or risk disqualification.
That's the premise, as displayed in the trailer, with a few details thrown in to make sense. As usual, setting up this premise takes up most of the film. All you have to look forward to is the character development, which is odd at best. Ruby has become the mother figure, and Mona and Vanessa act more like rival sisters than "aunt and niece". It is sometimes amusing, with some good dialogue and sharp satire of beauty pageants.
But, oy what an ending. For the first time in the history of FilmHead.com, I'm going to give it away. So, if you don't want it "spoiled", read no further.
An old rival from Illinois, Joyce Parkins (Leslie Stefanson), is now a TV reporter. She has figured out at the pageant that Vanessa is Mona's daughter. Mona makes it to the final three, while Vanessa watches in the audience. Joyce is waiting until the last moment to break the news, but Mona drops the bomb herself out of guilt and affection for Vanessa.
Field cuts to different people watching at home, who think that this statement is a stand against the pageant's no-children policy. They start calling in to vote for Mona to win.
At this point, I wrote in my notes: "Please, God, no building applause." And under that, "Half star deduction." I was ready to give the film two and a half stars, but wouldn't you know: less than a minute later, Field cuts to a single woman in the audience who starts clapping. Soon the whole audience is applauding.
OK, there was the deduction. I was beginning to think that it was a little harsh, until they started chanting "MO-NA, MO-NA". Then, of course, they crowned her Miss American Miss, anyway. I just sat there, dumbfounded at how Field could allow this in her film. Jon Bernstein's screenplay was pretty good, but did he think of putting this in there?
Certainly, they came together on it. Bernstein's only previous screenplay was for Jerry Springer's Ringmaster, so I suppose it could have been worse. Certainly, Field has been part of some very good projects, and she should have known better.
I feel worst for Driver, Eisenberg, and Adams, who are some of the best actresses in Hollywood. Driver, in particular, is one of my very favorite film stars. I hope that people can forgive and forget this little transgression, and allow them to move on in their careers.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan