Beauty No Priority
"I’m having a bad hair day --- actually a bad hair decade," claims FBI Agent Grace Hart in Miss Congeniality, a screwball comedy starring Sandra Bullock. Responding to a colleague’s comment about how lousy she looks, Grace almost seems proud of her unkempt appearance. Played with incredible comic flair by Bullock, this unusual heroine emerges as a grown-up tomboy more concerned about catching criminals than combing her hair (or doing anything else related to good grooming, for that matter). When Grace is selected to go undercover as a contestant at the Miss United States Beauty Pageant, the fun begins.
Makeovers are always amusing to watch --- which explains why the Pygmalion, My Fair Lady theme remains so popular. Miss Congeniality follows in this tradition. Assisting Bullock with her transformation is two-time Oscar-winner Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules) as Victor Melling, a snobbish beauty consultant. Reluctantly taking on the job, Melling complains that after all his hard work, Grace will be "ready for the world’s finest trailer park." He really does have his work cut out for him, especially since Grace fights him all the way. She sneaks out for pizza and beer, hides doughnuts in her bra, and keeps snorting when she laughs.
Watching Bullock and Caine interact testily with each other is one of the film’s special treats. Both get completely into their roles, capturing the essence of these very different individuals. When Melling orders one of his expert cosmetologists to "give Grace two eyebrows," Caine’s expression of disdain tells volumes about his attitude. After Grace tries to get back at Melling by calling him "a miserable, grumpy elitist," he insists sarcastically, "That works for me." Bullock’s answering shrug communicates just how disgusted Grace is with the whole project.
Still, this courageous agent will put up with anything to stop an anonymous terrorist from bombing the Texas pageant. While trying to discover the culprit’s identity, Grace bonds with the other contestants. She even begins to look like a bona fide Miss New Jersey. (Of course, we already knew how gorgeous Bullock really is, so that last part comes as no surprise.) What amazes Grace is that Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt), a fellow agent, starts to notice her romantically --- and that she is developing similar feelings for him.
By highlighting suspense as well as comedy, director Donald Petrie (Grumpy Old Men) gives the film’s pageant sequences special pizzazz. I loved the Statue of Liberty theme as well as the obligatory group dance number! And it’s wonderful to see Murphy Brown’s Candice Bergen (Starting Over) in a movie again. Portraying an ambitious former beauty queen and pageant organizer, Bergen almost convinced me for a few minutes that "It’s not a beauty pageant; it’s a scholarship program." Now that’s acting!
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for sexual references and a scene of violence.)