×

Beautiful

"Beautiful," Sally Field's decidedly unexciting feature directorial debut, aims to say something relevant about American society's preoccupation with appearances at the expense of such qualities as inner beauty and moral integrity. Minnie Driver plays a small-town Illinois girl whose sole ambition in life is to win the Miss America contest. There's no particular reason to see this disappointingly trivial picture on the bigscreen; in scale, production quality and message, it's perfect material for the Lifetime channel.

With:
Mona Hibbard - Minnie Driver Ruby - Joey Lauren Adams Vanessa - Hallie Kate Eisenberg Verna Chickle - Kathleen Turner Joyce Parkins - Leslie Stefanson Lorna, Miss Texas - Bridgette Wilson Wanda Love, Miss Tennessee - Kathleen Robertson

Beautiful,” Sally Field’s decidedly unexciting feature directorial debut, aims to say something relevant about American society’s preoccupation with appearances at the expense of such qualities as inner beauty and moral integrity. Minnie Driver plays a small-town Illinois girl whose sole ambition in life is to win the Miss America contest. There’s no particular reason to see this disappointingly trivial picture on the bigscreen; in scale, production quality and message, it’s perfect material for the Lifetime channel.

Beauty contests are a natural for nasty satire, but Fields, working with a screenplay credited to Jon Bernstein, instead propounds a philosophy similar to that of “Forrest Gump” (in which she played the central character’s mother): Listen to your heart and be true to yourself; whether you’re smart or stupid, good or bad, shouldn’t matter much.

Yarn begins in 1986 in Naperville, Ill., at a dental clinic, where young Mona flaunts her braces to the camera. Going from one minor contest to another, often sponsored by greedy beauty pageant expert Verna Chickle (an utterly wasted Kathleen Turner), Mona never wins, but her determination doesn’t wane. Lack of rapport with her working-class mom and stepfather makes her even more committed to her goal. Narrative suggests that Mona’s merciless zeal stems from an unglamorous and unloved childhood.

Popular on Variety

Second act jumps to 1999 and finds Mona just as unwilling to give in, climbing her way up the pageant ladder on sheer will and merciless hunger for victory. Her best friend from childhood, Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams), shows the patience of a saint in helping Mona pursue her ambition. When Mona gets pregnant and gives birth to Vanessa (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), Ruby pretends to be the child’s mom. Problem is, Vanessa looks just like Mona, and everyone recognizes the resemblance.

Mona has been the name of numerous “bad” protagonists in movies, from Robert Altman’s “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” to Nick Gomez’s “Drowning Mona.” In Field’s pic, Mona is yet another uniquely American monster, a poor cousin to the TV weatherwoman played by Nicole Kidman in Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For” — a far superior satire about the pursuit of fame at all costs (where it was mean-spirited, jaunty, bitchy, brisk and fun, Field’s film is bland, dull and overly long).

But in an interesting echo of the earlier film, the inquiring journalist in “Beautiful” is a woman (Leslie Stefanson) who hopes that her supposedly scandalous reports about Mona’s family secret will catch the attention of Tom Brokaw and catapult her to national stardom.

Pic’s last reel rehashes the familiar behind-the-scenes elements of a beauty pageant and all its dreary acts, from bathing-suit parade to talent contest. The implausible ending recalls a typical “Oprah” show.

Vacillating between comedy and family melodrama, the film never finds the right tone for its few mild jokes or life lessons. “Beautiful” is the kind of populist fairy tale in which the heroine gets to repent for her sin — and be cheered by feminists for proving that mothers (even bad ones) should be eligible to participate in beauty contests.

Beautiful

Production: A Destination Films presentation, in association with Flashpoint and Prosperity Pictures, of a 2 Drivers/Fogwood Films production. Produced by John Bertolli, B.J. Rack. Executive producers, Dick Vane, Kate Driver, Wendy Japhet, Barry London, Brent Baum, Steve Stabler, Marty Fink, David Forrest, Beau Rogers. Co-producers, Mark Morgan, Jon Bernstein, Jade Ramsey. Directed by Sally Field. Screenplay, Jon Bernstein.

Crew: Camera (color), Robert Yeoman; editor, Debra Neil-Fischer; music, John Frizzell; production designer, Charles Breen; art director, Leslie Thomas; set decorator, Jeffrey Kushon; costume designer, Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko; sound (Dolby/SDDS), Pawel Wdowczak; assistant director, John Nelson; casting, Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 10, 2000. Running time: 112 MIN.

With: Mona Hibbard - Minnie Driver Ruby - Joey Lauren Adams Vanessa - Hallie Kate Eisenberg Verna Chickle - Kathleen Turner Joyce Parkins - Leslie Stefanson Lorna, Miss Texas - Bridgette Wilson Wanda Love, Miss Tennessee - Kathleen Robertson

More Film

  • Uppercase Print

    'Uppercase Print': Film Review

    History is a fanged presence in Romanian director Radu Jude’s recent films. Since 2015’s “Aferim!,” in both fiction and nonfiction formats, culminating in the heady tangle of the two approaches that was 2018’s remarkable “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians,” Jude has interrogated various incidents and epochs in his [...]

  • Clint Eastwood

    Clint Eastwood Ditches Donald Trump for Mike Bloomberg in 2020 Election

    Longtime Republican Clint Eastwood is pulling support from Donald Trump in the 2020 election. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the actor-director signaled that he thinks a different candidate would be the better choice. “The best thing we could do is just get Mike Bloomberg in there,” he said. After endorsing Mitt Romney [...]

  • The Call of the Wild

    Box Office: 'Call of the Wild' to Narrowly Beat 'Sonic the Hedgehog'

    “The Call of the Wild” is on path for a narrow victory over “Sonic the Hedgehog” in North America with about $28 million at 3,752 locations, estimates showed Saturday. Disney-20th Century’s launch of the Harrison Ford movie has opened well above pre-release expectations and will wind up with a $3 million lead on “Sonic.” STX’s [...]

  • SF Studios Expands U.K. Biz, Develop

    SF Studios Expands U.K. Operations, Develops English-Language Survival Thriller 'Don't Move' (EXCLUSIVE)

    As it continues to expand its global profile, Nordic major SF Studios is ramping up its U.K. operations with high-profile new hires and is developing “Don’t Move,” an English-language survival thriller project to be directed by Scandinavian up-and-comer Alain Darborg (“Alex”). SF Studios, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, stepped into English-Language moviemaking with [...]

  • The Other Lamb

    TrustNordisk Closes Deals on 'The Other Lamb' (EXCLUSIVE)

    TrustNordisk has close several territory deals on “The Other Lamb,” Malgorzata Szumowska’s English-language debut, which competed at last year’s San Sebastian and played at Toronto. Tackling patriarchy in a bold way, the Irish psychological drama revolves around a cult, called the Flock, and is told through the eyes of 15-year-old Selah, played by British up-and-comer [...]

  • Cannes' Presidency Up in the Air

    Cannes' Presidency Up in the Air as Pierre Lescure Runs for Re-election

    While the Cannes Film Festival is basking in the glory of having world premiered Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” along with many other Oscar contenders, the fate of its presidency is up in the air. Pierre Lescure, who took over from Gilles Jacob in 2015 as Cannes president, and is running for a third term, was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content