Miss Congeniality (2000)
“This Christmas, get ready for a little peace on earth and good will towards men”
Director: Donald Petrie
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt
Synopsis: An FBI agent must go undercover in the Miss United States beauty pageant to prevent a group from bombing the event.
Miss Congeniality is perhaps a perfect example of a Hollywood genre movie, concocted from a well-worn formula, peppered with a sprinkling of laughs, most of which are pretty much compulsory for the situations depicted in the movie, and featuring a charismatic lead around whom all other cast members revolve like minor satellites. The lead here is Sandra Bullock, a pleasing light comedienne who is actually quite good, and it’s largely because of her presence – and that of the always reliable Michael Caine – that Miss Congeniality is better than it has any right to be. That’s not to say it’s an all-out comic triumph, but it does occasionally raise an appreciative laugh despite its ridiculous plot.
Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a snobbish FBI agent who takes no interest in her appearance and has no time for relationships. She also possesses an independent streak that continually gets her into trouble with her boss, but when the agency needs an agent to go undercover at a Miss USA beauty pageant in order to identify a terrorist who’s threatening to sabotage it, Gracie is pretty much forced to accept the assignment. Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen), the organiser of the pageant, insists that Gracie must be pimped up before she can enter the contest, and suggests the agency approach Victor Melling (Michael Caine) to do the job. Transformed from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, Gracie takes her place with the other 49 hopefuls and, with the help of fellow agent Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt), tries to uncover the culprit before he or she can sabotage the pageant on live TV.
Despite the presence of the likes of Caine and William Shatner, Bullock is the movie, and characters who could have transformed Miss Congeniality in the way that Melling transforms Gracie are fatally neglected. Each time these two appear on screen you can’t help but feel they’re being badly underused. It’s also unusual to find such similar personalities in the same movie, as if they were originally one character split into two for the purpose of the plot. Of course, each of them approaches their part in a different style, and despite having fewer lines, it has to be said that it’s Shatner who makes the bigger impression, tapping into a heretofore unrealised comic talent.
Bullock is also an accomplished comedienne, and makes an endearing heroine most of the time. Of course, at the start of the movie she’s about as plain as any A-list actress can be, which makes her transformation less than astounding, but she manages to constantly remind us of the fact that the sultry hips and come-hither lip gloss are just a front by pulling faces and tripping over when wearing heels. Their obvious laughs, but it’s a mark of Bullock’s skill as a comic actress that she pulls them off.
(Reviewed 1st August 2012)