When boiled down to that old idea of high concept, Drop Dead Gorgeous is Happiness meets There's Something About Mary - - a slightly uneasy blend of indie irony and adolescent shock comedy.
And bizarrely, it works as a deliciously mean-spirited satire that sinks its teeth into the soft underbelly of Middle America. But the flag-waving, God-fearing patriotism of the pageant industry is an easy target, so the movie also plays the gross-out card, gaining mileage from a series of horribly graphic visual gags.
It's hard to think of a more self-consciously unpleasant flick since veteran sicko John Waters was at his most outrageous. Anorexics, amputees, burn victims, Jesus and, most of all, the good ol' US of A fall prey to the less than gentle attentions of writer Lona Williams, who was herself a Minnesota pageant queen. But any potential offence is disarmed (well, some of it) by the use of the documentary crew to tell the story. As a result, crude shock tactics become self-referential parody.
Despite all this, Drop Dead Gorgeous could well earn prime chick-flick status. Hollywood `laws' tell us that girls like to watch dewy, hormonal tear-jerkers, preferably with a baby thrown in somewhere. Not so. The kind of pics women really enjoy have nasty, bitchy cat-fights with sick jokes at the expense of... Well, everything really. And beauty queens coming to horrible and violent ends rates highly.
The cast is almost entirely female; the men are either perverts, retards, creeps or corpses. Both Dunst and Richards are excellent as the duelling teen princesses, but their mothers grab most of the best lines. Alley is in her element as the mendacious pageant co-ordinator with ambitions for her daughter and Barkin is equally entertaining as the beer-swilling, trailer-dwelling Annette Atkins, with an admirable sidekick in the form of wise-cracking, man-hungry Loretta (Janney).
The fast-paced narrative climaxes, naturally, with the talent competition, boasting a hugely funny song-and- dance routine from Richards. The only problem is that the competition happens a good 30 minutes before the end of the movie, and what follows is the only real indication that neither writer nor director have any previous experience in feature films.
It's not that the denouement is disastrous, as the script is still extremely funny; rather that the storyline ends up losing its way in an effort to be too many things to too many people. Consequently, Drop Dead Gorgeous isn't entirely successful all of the time. That aside, however, it is a blissfully malicious attack on everything cloying and sentimental.
At times it is painfully funny; occasionally it's just painful. But mostly, Drop Dead Gorgeous is a thoroughly enjoyable movie about the lengths to which a nice Lutheran girl will go in her quest for beauty, fame and the American dream.