Miss Congeniality

Miss Congeniality (2000)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Candice Bergen, William Shatner
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Documentaries, Talent Files, Theatrical Trailer

It’s not unusual for the movies to lampoon a certain portion of society. Whether it be a certain event, tradition, societal group, or more commonly, a particular genre of film, comedies have been making fun of things for years. But, while Hollywood is adept at taking potshots at seemingly everything, there may be some targets, which are too easy. There have been several movies in the past featuring beauty pageants, such as "Smile" and "Drop Dead Gorgeous", but none have really gone for the jugular. Sandra Bullock’s latest vehicle "Miss Congeniality" now joins this list. While it does poke fun at the world of pageants, it plays nicey and never gets too rough. "Miss Congeniatlity" has newly arrived on DVD from Warner Home Video and is ready to strut its stuff across the stage.

"Miss Congeniality" introduces us to FBI agent Gracie Hart. Gracie is a dedicated professional and focuses more on her job than on herself. Therefore, she dresses like most of the male agents. After an undercover operation goes awry, Gracie is reprimanded by her superior Agent McDonald (Ernie Hudson). When a terrorist named "The Citizen" threatens the Miss United States Pageant, Agent Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt) is assigned to travel to Austin, Texas to investigate. Matthews decides that Gracie should infiltrate the pageant as a contestant. Gracie protests, but it’s made clear that due to her recent mistakes, she needs to cooperate. The organizers of the pageant, Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen) and Stan Fields (William Shatner), send Gracie to pageant consultant Victor Melling to mold Gracie into a beauty. After a great deal of work, Gracie is transformed from an ugly duckling into a swan pageant princess.

However, her physical transformation was the (semi) easy part. Now, Gracie Hart enters the pageant as Gracie Lou Freebush. She has two days to learn how to walk in high-heels, figure out what her talent is, get to know the other contestants, and look for clues as to when and where "The Citizen" is going to strike. As expected, Gracie’s outer transformation works its way inward as Gracie begins to bond with the other women in the pageant. Will all of this personal growth allow Gracie to figure out who’s trying to sabotage the pageant?

With "Miss Congeniality", Sandra Bullock has somehow managed to make yet another mediocre film. As with "Hope Floats" and "28 Days", Bullock’s latest effort neither hits nor misses, but consistently treads down the middle of the road in terms of quality. The movie definitely has quite some funny scenes, but I didn’t find myself laughing out loud that often. It is more an amusement to watch. As you can probably tell from the plot synopsis, aside from a terrorist attacking a beauty pageant, the plot of "Miss Congeniality" isn’t all that original.

Nonetheless, the film is very entertaining and never boring. This can be attributed to the characters. Keeping with the mediocrity theme, "Miss Congeniality" is full of characters who should be very annoying but aren’t. Gracie’s gruff tomboy character and Matthews arrogant playboy would be unwatchable in other films, but they didn’t rub me raw here. (The fact that Benjamin Bratt didn’t get on my nerves says boatloads about "Miss Congeniality".) The real stars of the film are Michael Caine and William Shatner. Caine wisely underplays his flamboyant character giving him a great deal of charm. Meanwhile, William Shatner appears to be in another film entirely, as he delivers some lines that don’t make much sense, but are very funny.

As mentioned earlier, "Miss Congeniality" doesn’t really make fun of beauty pageants. Actually, it seems to praise them. Ultimately, the message of the movie is that women must be beautiful and sophisticated in order to be successful. This goes beyond any kind of Cinderella story. Gracie is a total screw-up, both professionally and personally, until she gets her hair done and puts on a dress. Should a 21st Century movie really have that kind of theme? It’s truly ironic that a movie that has several powerful women behind the camera would have such a outdated idea.

As "Miss Congeniality" went on to be a box-office success, Warner Home Video has given it deserving treatment on DVD. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The image is crystal clear, showing practically zero grain and no defects from the source print. Director Donald Petrie has given the film a bright and vibrant color palette, and these hues are perfectly represented here. The framing appears to be accurate, and there are no overt problems resulting from artifacting or compression issues. The picture is always stable and there are no problems with horizontal lines.

The audio on the "Miss Congeniality" DVD isn’t as perfect, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The soundtrack on the DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix>. It brings us clear and audible dialogue, which is never overrun by the music. Speaking of the music, this track brings up a nice, deep bass during the musical numbers. However, the surround sound field is quite limited, and the audio coming from the rear speakers is fairly quiet, except for a few musical cues and sound effects. But considering the crowd scenes and city-street settings, more ambient surround sound is to be expected.

There are two documentaries on the disc. The first is entitled, "Miss Congeniality: Behind the Beauty". This 9-minute featurette offers some behind the scenes footage, as well as interviews with the cast and crew. It also includes some outtakes and one deleted scene (and it’s a good thing that the scene was cut, as it’s a joke stolen from an episode of "Friends".) But, be advised, this featurette also gives away the ending. The second documentary is called "Miss Congeniality: Behind the Crown". This contains more outtakes in which we get to see Sandra Bullock make funny faces! Wee! This 11-and-a-half minute featurette is almost identical to the first one, as it gives us interviews and two deleted scenes. Oh, and it gives away the finale as well. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why Warner set the extra features up like this, when these two featurettes could have easily been combined into one long one.

The DVD also features two audio commentaries. The first contains star Sandra Bullock and writer/co-executive producer Marc Lawrence. It’s obvious that these two are close, making this commentary laid-back and fun. This pair shares many funny and insightful stories about the making of the film, and they never stop making fun of one another. The other commentary features director Donald Petrie. This commentary isn’t as fun as the first one, but Petrie does speak ceaselessly throughout the film and offers many interesting scene specific comments. The annoying thing about both commentaries is that they refer to subplots and deleted scenes, which aren’t featured elsewhere on the disc.

To round out the special features, the "Miss Congeniality" DVD offers brief cast & crew biographies and the theatrical trailer for the film, which has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1, and doesn’t have a "green band" at the beginning.

If you go into "Miss Congeniality" expecting a spoof of beauty pageants or an action-oriented crime film, you’re going to be disappointed. But, if you expect nothing more than a light-hearted Sandra Bullock movie, than you may come away happy. "Miss Congeniality" is a fun movie that offers some laughs, but it doesn’t go any farther than that. The DVD brings us a beautiful transfer and some decent extras. For the record, if I had been judging the Miss United States Pageant, I would’ve definitely voted for Miss Rhode Island.