The directorial debut of two-time Oscar-winner Sally Field, Beautiful is a misguided attempt to make a "message" movie about beauty pageants (to see this done right, see Drop Dead Gorgeous.) Beautiful is muddled and sometimes incomprehensible swinging wildly between comedy, drama, and after-school special. Minnie Driver stars as Mona, a beauty-pageant-obsessed woman who uses and abuses her friends and family in pursuit of the shallow and never-analyzed goal of becoming "Miss American Miss." Growing up in a poor white-trash family with parents who don't love her, Mona deceives (and occasionally physically harms) fellow pageant contestants in an attempt to climb the beauty-pageant ladder. Her long-suffering friend Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams) is there to schlep Mona's wardrobe, make her costumes, and dry her tears. What does Ruby get in return? When Mona unexpectedly gets pregnant, Ruby gets to be the mother to Mona's child (you can't be Miss American Miss if you're a mom, you see). Driver a fine actress under normal circumstances is almost completely unbearable here, portraying a character who has no redeemable qualities and is thoroughly unlikable. ("You're just not a happy girl, are you?" quips Mona's mother in gross understatement.) Hallie Kate Eisenberg (the exceedingly irritating little Pepsi girl) is such an annoyance that it's a wonder either of these women are willing to parent her. Adams does the best she can, but her character is drawn in strokes that are too broad, and the plot devices foisted on her are ridiculous. For instance, a subplot involving the suicide of a woman under her care in a nursing home is fabricated to put Adams' character in jail in order to force Mona and the daughter to be together (puh-lease). Any number of other plot devices could have served to create this situation, but this silly contrivance means subsequent scenes involving Adams are shot while she is in a correctional facility an effect that is most disturbing and totally unnecessary. The movie wanders at will with no sense of rationale mixing messages, defying consistency, and ending on a completely false note when Mona has an epiphany that leads to her redemption and a happy ending. The moral here seems to be that it's okay to lie, cheat, steal, abandon your children, and misuse your friends as long as you occasionally tell the truth and, of course, look beautiful while you're being a conniving bitch. If there's a real message in Beautiful it's that making a film from an incoherent screenplay is an ugly proposition. Columbia TriStar's DVD is presented in widescreen and full-screen formats with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Theatrical trailers, talent files. Keep-case.
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