“‘Drop Dead’ Almost Gorgeous” by Scott Mantz

“Drop Dead Gorgeous”
Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Kirstey Alley, Ellen Barkin
Directed by Michael Patrick Jann

These days tasteless humor in film is at an all-time high. The ultimate in guilty pleasures, it gives us a chance to laugh at touchy issues without feeling guilty about it. We’re under so much pressure to be politically correct that we embrace those moments when we can let our guard down. The box office receipts of recent films like “There’s Something about Mary”, “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” and “American Pie” prove this point.

Take this element and put it in a “mockumentary” format, and the result is the funny and satirical “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. While this film doesn’t reach the heights of similar mock-predecessors “This is Spinal Tap”, “Bob Roberts”, and “Waiting For Guffman”, there are enough jibes at such politically in-correct topics like religion, eating disorders, and mental illness to leave you laughing out loud. From trailer parks to the NRA, every stereotype imaginable is magnified to the extreme.

While filming the Miss Teen Princess Pageant in Mount Rose, Minnesota, a film crew also captures the behind-the-scenes backstabbing and ruthlessness of the event. Amber (Kirsten Dunst) and Becky (Denise Richards) are rivals from opposite sides of the fence competing with a handful of other quirky teens for the crown. While the poor Amber has nothing but good intentions, the bitchy and beautiful Becky, who will stop at nothing to win, has her ace in the hole. Her mother (Kirstey Alley) is the pageant administrator and a former winner herself.

Constructive competition takes a deadly turn. One of the contestants is killed when her favorite tractor explodes. Another is killed when a stage light crashes on her head. It seems obvious who the culprit is, but Amber backs out of the pageant when her life is threatened. Only with the support of her trailer park, chain-smoking mother (Ellen Barkin) does she decide to stay to the very bitter end.

Richards is excellent as the spoiled, gun-packing Becky, solidifying the traits she developed in last year’s “Wild Things”. Her beauty is hypnotic when she flashes that gorgeous smile, but you know she is up to no good. As her mother, Kirstey Alley seems like she could have been plucked right out of “Fargo”. As Amber, Kirtsen Dunst is the lone flower in this town of weeds. While she is not naÔve, she stays the only sympathetic character throughout the film.

There’s something to offend everybody. One of the judges is just in it for the thrill of watching the young girls dance around half-naked. Another spends more time beating up his way-overweight, mentally challenged son than judging the pageant. When the locals aren’t inquiring if the film crew is from “Cops”, they’re busy making sexual advances at them. The previous year’s anorexic winner is rolled out on a wheelchair to pass the crown to the new winner. Finally, in a hilariously balsphemous scene, Becky performs her dance number with a stuffed Jesus on a Crucifix.

The problem is that the film runs a tad bit too long. Instead of ending with the teen pageant, we follow the winner (who shall remain nameless) to the national finals. By this time, the jokes wear thin and you wonder where the film is going. By leaving its very dysfunctional surroundings, the film loses some of its bite. But these are minor squabbles, since the film is so rudely funny.

Unfortunately, “Gorgeous” is lost in a very crowded summer. It doesn’t have enough star power to compete with the films of Kubrick and Lucas, but it could have a strong cult following on video and cable. And so it should. It may not always pay off, but when it does, you can’t help but feel so guilty about what you’re laughing at that you just want to, well, drop dead.