Drop Dead Gorgeous

Directed by Michael Patrick Jann
Starring: Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for irreverent and crude humor, sex-related material and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
July 23, 1999

In the wake of The Blair Witch Project is a more conventional pseudo-documentary: several recognizable stars, very cinematic, and used for the purpose of satire. Certainly nobody should expect anything revolutionary about Drop Dead Gorgeous, but I expected a little more than I got.

This film is supposed to be a documentary of a regional "Sara Rose Cosmetics American Teen Princess" pageant in Mount Rose, Minnesota. The winner will go on to compete for the state crown, and the state winner goes on to the nationals (where they get to meet celebrities, like Adam West). The president of the pageant board is Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley), a former Teen Princess and mother of Rebecca (Denise Richards), who is in this year's pageant. Gladys' husband (Sam McMurray) owns a big furniture store, and is the richest man in this small town.

Rebecca's biggest competition is Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), who works in a funeral home putting makeup on corpses. Her mother, Annette (Ellen Barkin), was also a former contestant, but now operates a hair salon in their trailer. Rebecca likes the field of cosmetology, but dreams of being a news reporter, like her heroine: former beauty queen Diane Sawyer.

Rebecca and her mother are very intent on her winning this pageant. Several questionable deaths and maimings occur that would seem to be their doing. Some of them also appear to be meant for Amber, after the other major competition is blown up while riding a thresher.

The biggest problem with this film was that it remiminded me of too many far better films. Blair Witch happened to also be a pseudo-documentary, but I wasn't reminded of that. Actually, the Minnesota accents reminded me of happier times, like watching Fargo. They actually had the audacity to use "Also sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss during a climactic scene, which can only make me recall 2001. Worst of all, I couldn't help remembering how much better Waiting for Guffman was at satirizing "Middle America" with its use of pseudo-documentary.

Dunst is an exceptionally good actress, and having Richards as an antagonist doesn't help. The villian should always be at least as good, if not far better than the hero. But, I guess it was appropriate because Barkin is so much better than Alley -- like mothers, like daughters.

There are a few good laughs, especially from Mike McShane and Will Sasso playing father and son. The rest of the film, however, is quite uneven, and most of the jokes don't work. Some are even a little offensive. If you want good satire, just watch the talent contests and interviews of real pageants; they are much funnier.

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Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan