Februrary 12, 2013

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Kirstie Alley, and Ellen Barkin

"And so, dear Lord, it is with deep sadness that we turn over to you this young woman, whose dream to ride on a giant swan resulted in her death. Maybe it is your way of telling us... to buy American."  

Comments:   Drop Dead Gorgeous is one of those little comic masterpieces that I would put right up there along with the Brady Bunch Movie.  I would put it smack dab at the top of my list of "movies that you think will suck but are secretly awesome."   In fact, this is one of those movies that looked so stupid on paper that I wouldn't give it a chance for nearly half a decade.  I remember when it first came out, I saw it sitting there on the video shelf at Blockbuster, and I walked right by it for like four years.  And I didn't even hesitate.  And every time I walked by it I thought the exact same thing.  "Oh goody, a beauty pageant movie starring Denise Richards and Kirstie Alley.  Yeah sign me right up for that one, I bet it's awesome."

The sign of any good movie

Well one day around 2003 I was bored and I had nothing else to do and I decided to give it a chance.  I remember thinking, well Kirsten Dunst was pretty good in Bring It On.  So maybe she is funny in this one too. Why not roll the dice and waste 90 minutes of my life on the stupid Kirstie Alley beauty pageant movie?  Who knows, I've got nothing better to do.  Maybe it will actually have a laugh or two.

So I rented Drop Dead Gorgeous.  And I experienced it for the first time.

And... woah.

To call this movie a dark comedy would be a bit of an understatement.  Because I am not sure I have -ever- seen a comedy that was any darker than Drop Dead Gorgeous.  It is so much different than you think it is going to be.  It is also fucking hilarious, and is one of those rare movies that I immediately ran out and bought right after I watched it.  All it takes is one viewing to realize that this little "lame beauty pageant movie" is going to one day be right up there alongside Bad Santa and The South Park Movie in the bad taste comedy movie Hall of Fame.

And I'm not sure even South Park can top Mary Johanson in the anorexia spotlight dance

Drop Dead Gorgeous is one of those movies that I don't really want to tell you too much about.  In fact, I almost feel like I have already told you too much.  I mean, I already spoiled the anorexia subplot, the dancing with Jesus subplot, and the Hank the Retard subplot.  I already tipped you off to three of the funniest jokes in the movie.

Good thing I didn't also spoil my all time favorite "Please Buy American" joke

Or the legend of pageant judge John Dough

Drop Dead Gorgeous is one of those little gems that I could just sit here and rave about for hours.  I mean, I can't even tell you how many people I have turned on to this movie over the years.  And without question, EVERY single person I have ever recommended it to wound up loving it.  In fact, last year it was even responsible for my all time favorite movie recommendation story ever.

I have a friend who lives in Australia and who doesn't watch movies.  She just doesn't like movies.  But I happen to know that she thinks that Americans are weird and religious and hypocritical.  And she thinks that beauty pageants are creepy.  And she is also cynical as hell.  So I emailed her one day out of the blue and I said, "Look, I know you don't watch movies, but if I could recommend ONE American comedy to you, it would be this one.  Take a chance on Drop Dead Gorgeous.  Let me know what you think of it, it should be right up your alley."

Needless to say, she LOVED it.

And right there, there you have it.  That is the power of this movie.  Drop Dead Gorgeous, arguably my all time favorite recommendation movie.  It is so funny that people who don't even watch movies will wind up liking it.

It's the most smartest movie ever

You know, I was going to keep this review short, because I sort of want people to experience DDG for themselves.  But I can't sign off before I mention a couple of things that have to be said.

Like Lona Williams

Drop Dead Gorgeous was written by a woman named Lona Williams.  She was a former beauty pageant contestant from Minnesota (like they say, write what you know) and to this day, if I ever see another movie written by Lona Williams I am going to see it.  

But that is the sad thing.  She just never really wrote any other movies.  

She wrote Drop Dead Gorgeous (her debut), then she followed it up with a similar movie called Sugar and Spice.  Sugar and Spice isn't bad, by the way, it is nowhere near as funny as DDG but it is still awfully similar.  However Lona Williams didn't like what the director did with Sugar and Spice so she sued to have her name taken off of the credits before it came out.  And really, that was about the last time she ever wrote a movie.  And that kills me, because Drop Dead Gorgeous is so unbelievable awesome that it hurts me that she never wrote any other movies.  Some day she really needs to come up with some sort of a follow up.  I can promise you that I will be there on opening night.

By the way, that is Lona Williams in the picture above.  She is the judge on the far right.  She is one of the judges in Drop Dead Gorgeous but she never actually says a word.

Allison Janney (above) pops up in the second half of the movie and she practically walks away with the entire thing.  I have heard a lot of people over the years say that Allison Janney is the most underrated comic actress in America, and in no movie is that more evident than in Drop Dead Gorgeous.  She takes a movie that is chock full of hilarious characters and amazing writing, and she overshadows everyone.  It is ridiculous to think that Allison Janney isn't a bigger star.  It is doubly ridiculous that they have never asked her to host SNL.

Brittany Murphy

Oh yeah, speaking of scene stealers, the late Brittany Murphy is in Drop Dead Gorgeous in one of her very first movie roles.  She is the giggly girl who snorts when she laughs and who (like Allison Janney) steals nearly every scene she is in.


Oh yeah, remember how I talked crap about Kirstie Alley and Denise Richards at the start of my writeup?  Well I take it back when it comes to Drop Dead Gorgeous.  They are both absolutely PERFECT for their roles.  Nobody else could have played the materialistic, vacuous, super religious, more than a little bit evil Leeman girls.

Knows that Jesus loves winners

And then, finally, we come to Amy Adams.  

Yes, you know Amy Adams.  You know, one of the most decorated and respected actresses in the world?  The one who always gets nominated for an Academy Award?

Well one of Amy's first movies was Drop Dead Gorgeous.


I actually have a funny story about Amy Adams.

Way before she ever became famous, way before anyone who ever knew who "Amy Adams" was, she was always my favorite character in Drop Dead Gorgeous.  For years I remember thinking, "You know, that girl who played the town slut, Leslie, she was a really good actress."  I always thought it was amazing that a character who was that stupid and who was that much a tramp could actually come off as being likable.  I mean, in the hands of most actors, Leslie the Town Mattress would have only been a one joke character.  She would have only existed for you to make fun of her.  But because she was played by Amy Adams, in the movie you find yourself actually kind of rooting for her.

Again, I remember thinking that about eight years ago.  I remember thinking, "Wow that girl who played Leslie was really good.  She was actually kind of sweet.  I wonder why that Amy Adams girl never made any other movies?"

Amy Adams is very popular at frat parties

And you know, I guess I can't sign off without at least one more mention of Hank, the dancing with Jesus scene, and the anorexic girl.


It's the wig that kills me

As I said earlier, Drop Dead Gorgeous is destined to one day be elected into the bad taste movie Hall of Fame.  There may have never been a darker, more cynical and nasty and mean spirited comedy, and I just absolutely love it.  I cannot believe how much better it is than I originally expected it to be.  It is the ultimate example of you really can't judge a book by its cover.  There is no way you can see "beauty pageants" and "Kirstie Alley" and "Denise Richards" and "first time screenwriter" and expect a movie to come out of it like this.  There is just no way.  

Also, Vaseline

Besides "underrated" and "guilty pleasure", one of the phrases that gets thrown around the most when it comes to Drop Dead Gorgeous is "it's not for everyone."  Most of the reviews of this movie will invariably say something to the effect of "Well it will probably offend you, but if you can handle it you will love it."

Well, personally I disagree with that statement.  I think this -is- a movie for everyone.  I have yet to find a person who didn't watch Drop Dead Gorgeous the first time and crack up.  Even if, yes, even if you think it is probably in bad taste.  I mean, who cares if it is in bad taste?  This is the kind of ballsy little comedy that should be celebrated.  The bad taste is what actually makes it endearing.

Guns!  Deaf people!

I would like to finish my review of Drop Dead Gorgeous by sharing a story about my mother.  My dear sweet mother.  Who was raised as a small town Lutheran girl in Port Angeles and who probably never saw any type of edgy comedy at all until she was about thirty.

Well I showed my mom Drop Dead Gorgeous somewhere around 2003.

I didn't know what to expect.  I mean, -I- knew it was edgy, and I knew it took a lot of potshots at religion.  And I knew it was particularly nasty when it came to Lutherans.  But I was curious what my mom would think about it with her, you know, actually being a Lutheran and all.

Well all it took was about five minutes.  

About five minutes into the movie, one of the Lutheran women sees a drunk Catholic priest walking down the street.  And she turns to the camera and says "The communal wine just proves -too- tempting for some of them.  And that's why we Lutherans use grape Kool-Aid for the blood of Christ."

Well that was it.  She was done.  That line destroyed her.  My mom was laughing out loud pretty much the entire rest of the movie.

Without question, one of the best comedies in my entire collection

Drop Dead Gorgeous.  If you have never seen it before, get ready for it.  It sure is a memorable one.  

Rent it yourself, grab yourself some bars, and enjoy.

And be sure to keep that hemoglobin up

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Drop Dead Gorgeous:

About the funniest thing I've ever seen. - 28 December 2002
I don't tend to use strong language when describing movies because I see so many and it's rare that I find anything really new. This is one of them.

I had to stop watching several times because I was laughing so hard. I see a lot of movies and I have never laughed this hard.

I read some of the other comments about this movie and there is a lot of anger against this thing. Can't see it. Some comments say it is too offensive, it's not. Some say it's boring, it's definitely not. Some say it steals from other movies, but that's just downright false. It's hilarious and utterly unique.

Underrated Comedy - 15 July 2005
I never expected to enjoy this movie. In fact, I thought I was going to hate it. "Beauty pageant themed, chick-flick comedy", right? Stupid jokes about hair, dresses, and stuff I couldn't care less about, right? Wrong. It's presented in that faux-documentary (or mockumentary) style that Christopher Guest has perfected. It pokes fun at middle America, small towns, that sort of "redneckish patriotism" we see so often, and of course the way these contestants (and their parents) take themselves WAY too seriously. It also shines as a mostly female comedic sandbox where Allison Janney, Ellen Barkin, Kirsten Dunst, Brittany Murphy, and Kirstie Allie can show off their comedic skills (I had no idea that some of them had it in them). All I can say is that it's hilarious. Will Sasso is the greatest "handi-capable" character ever put on film. His "cheerleading" as Kirsten Dunst spells every state in alphabetical order is comedy gold. If you don't laugh...you're dead inside.

Most smartest and funniest American film since The Producers - 3 August 2004
This is a seriously funny film, deeply subversive and a great piece of work. What it's not is a satire on the vacuousness of beauty pageants.

DDG aims at the emptiness of our whole materialistic culture and the way we have traded in the more valuable things in life for the pursuit of a perfect self image and will even cash in that perverted, limited objective for a few minutes of fame on TV. Life is a house of cards with hidden truths under every shiny surface.

The humour is so dense and the jokes are so profligately thrown around that it occasionally feels like an incarnation of The Simpsons, 54 episodes of which benefited from the efforts of DDG scriptwriter Lona Williams. She may have written your favourite. The performances are no less praiseworthy with outstanding leads and fabulous and memorable minor characters. Look out for the Sheriff. Amongst them all, I'll single out two which I think are pitch perfect, Sam McMurray as the ruthless father in thrall to his wife and daughter and Nora Dunn as the drunken 'has it come to this?' State Pageant organiser. There are lots of others to choose from.

Every you time you watch you get something new, enabling you to rejoice further in the fact that half the people who watch it don't get any of it at all. In fact it's so sharp that even people who like this type of thing can get cut to pieces by it. We are, after all, watching ourselves. Mind your fingers . . .

Most smartest and funniest American film since The Producers? Yes, it's THAT good.

Much Funnier than it was Given Credit For - 29 June 2004
This has to be one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Drop Dead Gorgeous is a fictitious, sarcastic documentary about a beauty pageant that is intentionally un-politically correct and sprinkled with dark comedy. While it admittedly doesn't follow the Mockumentary format as well as the Christopher Guest films, there is one reason why it didn't do well at the box office: It doesn't come right out and hit you over the head with the jokes. Mainstream Hollywood movies like to set up the joke, tell the joke, then explain why the joke was funny to make sure everyone got it. Much of this movie requires you to pay attention, watch the background, remember what happened in previous scenes, and sometimes even figure out what happened off-camera or else the jokes fly right by. You really have to see it a few times before you can truly appreciate all the thought that went into the script. Drop Dead Gorgeous shows that there are movies made with subtle (yet really funny) jokes that require thought, and some comedies are worth seeing again and again. Unfortunately, the fact that it's always on the $4.99 rack at the store shows that most people aren't ready for them. If want a movie that's a real hidden gem, pick it up.

Surprisingly Outstanding Satire - 30 September 2010
The Minnesota accent is fantastic and the details to humor is just brilliant. Granted not everyone in Minnesota sounds like that, but it is a far more of an accurate accent than the strong one in Fargo. It's fair to say this because I actually live 30 minutes from Minnesota.

There's just so much going on in the background and as silly as everything is, you are really rooting for Dunst's character, even though the tone is so "Strictly Ballroom" (outrageous and sweet). The documentary style is perfect for this it brings out the charm and ugliness of the whole story.

Honestly, I'm just surprised that this movie wasn't and isn't more popular. Or at least some sort of cult classic.

I miss humor like this. I'd trade awkward silence to sweet satire any day.

Also I love Amy Adams in this film, from a Stripper to Enchanted princess... a girl can really dream.

Brutally Wicked And Hilarious - 14 June 2010
I just watched this again for the first time in a few years. And it is even more hilarious than I remembered. The script is wicked, creating satire that assaults the senses like a baseball bat to the gut. The cast is perfect. Just about everyone delivers an inspired performance, and there are too many to talk about all of them. But the least likely is worth mentioning. Denise Richards is brilliant as a born-to-be beauty queen, the daughter of the local pageant manager, played by Kirstie Alley. Her "talent" performance is the dark highlight of the movie, so ridiculously over-the-top that that you may feel the need to wince. Try not to. If you close your eyes for even a moment, you'll miss something.

Brittany Murphy also deserves a special mention. She plays a goofy, good-natured contestant in what would be a throw-away role for many actors. But Murphy brings a charm and commitment that makes it work. And she is rewarded with what I think is the best line in the movie.

A satire about beauty pageants even straight guys can enjoy - 25 February 2011
Drop Dead Gorgeous is an incorrigible satire that overcomes the doomed reputation of its genre to be one of the funniest films I've seen in a long time. Even when it's well done, satire tends to be more clever than comedic…and it usually isn't that well done in the first place. This movie spectacularly succeeds by not only offering up sharp takes on fairly obvious and easy targets, but also delivering delightful bits of lunacy that will make you laugh at everything from horrific eating disorders to physical mutilation.

The story is about a documentary film crew that goes to the small Minnesota town of Mount Rose to cover the local qualifying pageant for the America's Teen Princess competition. They film and interview the pageant organizers, young contestants and their friends and family. The crew is also around to record the deaths and maimings that surround the pageant and always seem to benefit Becky Leeman (Denise Richards), the jaded and two-faced daughter of Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley), the pageant organizer, a former pageant winner and a stage mom desperate to relive her past glory. The only real competitor to Becky, at least the only one that luckily remains unharmed, is Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst). She's the good hearted trailer park girl who squeezes in tap dancing practice during her two jobs, one in the school cafeteria and the other putting make up on stiffs in the town funeral parlor.

As you might expect, a lot of the satire of Drop Dead Gorgeous is aimed at the natives of Minnesota and the classic tropes of small town life. It's reflected best in some of the pageant contestants. There's the slutty cheerleader (Amy Adams), the drama club chick (Laurie Sinclair), the tomboy of ambiguous sexuality (Brooke Bushman) and the fat girl who loves her dog a little too much (Shannon Nelson). But these filmmakers then compliment those fairly obvious characters with some wonderfully off kilter contestants. One young woman is a future fag hag (Brittany Murphy), another lives her life as a tribute to her deaf mother (Sarah Stewart) and another is a white girl adopted and raised by Japanese parents that are pathetically desperate to assimilate into the good ol' U S of A.

By adding bizarre and outrageous bits that are only trying to make you laugh, it makes the satiric and darker outlook of the film go down a lot smoother. Many satires fall into the trap of being self righteous or exploitative but because there's a different and separate layer of comedy running through the story, Drop Dead Gorgeous is just plain hilarious. As you react to the crazy, non-satiric jokes, it becomes easier to appreciate the humor underlying the satire. And since the non-satiric comedy is more over-the-top and potentially offensive than the satiric moments, it never feels like the film is being judgmental about these characters or their dreams.

Helping things out is a cast that's as good as the material they're given to work with. Kirsten Dunst and Amy Adams are the highlights, both absolutely adorable and just close enough to being realistic to give their characters that extra oomph. Ellen Barkin is also great as Amber's "rode hard and put away wet" mother and Allison Janney almost steals the show as her outspoken and cougarish trailer park neighbor. The other actors are also very funny and screenwriter Lona Williams gives one of the best performances in the movie without saying a word. Denise Richards is…well, she's Denise Richards. If you've seen her in other films, you know what to expect. She's good looking and makes an effort, but there's just not a lot going on.

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a movie about teenage beauty pageants that's so funny and bold, even a lot of high school boys could enjoy it…and I'm talking about heterosexual high school boys. I'm not sure there's any higher praise that I can give.

* My favorite quotes from Drop Dead Gorgeous:
(get ready, I could probably post a hundred of these)

Loretta: Why do I think Becky'll win? You're talking about the richest family in a small town. It's front page news when one of them takes a shit.

Crew Guy: Fuckin' beauty queens blowing chunks everywhere. I-I've never seen anything like it before, and I live in L.A.

Voice of Documentarian: So you've, uh, you've judged a lot of pageants over the years?
John: No, no, no way, no. Never judged a pageant before in my life. Mm-mm. No way. Never been around young girls. I mean, even if I was, I mean, why would I wanna be, y'know? I-I don't get off on that kinda thing and that's really why you're askin', right?
John: Someone say somethin'?

[Loretta sees the documentary film crew approaching her trailer]
Loretta: Are we on 'Cops' again?

Becky Ann Leeman: [holding up a pistol] My mom gave me this 9-mil for my 13th birthday. Yeah. I'll always remember what she put on the card, "Jesus Loves Winners". That's why no matter what I do, I aim to win.

Loretta: Can one of you boys give me a ride home?
Annette Atkins: Don't fall for it. She lives two trailers down.
Loretta: So? Be real easy.

Terry Macey: And you are...
Amber Atkins: Mount Rose American Teen Princess.
Terry Macey: Funny, you don't look dead!

Gladys Leeman: American Teen Princesses do not cross their legs like streetwalkers.
[to Leslie Miller]
Gladys Leeman: Excuse me, Miss Penthouse '98, put your kness together. I could drive a boat show in there.

Mary Johanson: With one week to go before the pageant, I was finishing my outfit, rehearsing my talent, brushing up on current events, and running 18 miles a day on about 400 calories. I was ready.

Voice of Documentarian: Do you think that most people would say that teenage beauty pageants are a good idea?
Gladys Leeman: Oh yeah, sure. I know what some of your big city, no-bra-wearing, hairy-legged women libbers might say. They might say that a pageant is old-fashioned and demeaning to the girls.
Iris Clark: What's sick is women dressing like men.
Gladys Leeman: You betcha, Iris. No, I think you boys are gonna find something a litle bit different here in Mount Rose. For one thing, we're all God-fearing folk, every last one of us. And you will not find a "back room" in our video store. No, no, that filth is better left to the sin cities.
Iris Clark: AKA Minneapolis Saint Paul.

[answering "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"]
Becky Ann Leeman: I'd have good strong roots in a town like Mt. Rose, a solid Christian trunk, and long, leafy branches to provide shade for handicapped kids on a hot summer day.

[the documentary crew are filming the reigning local pageant winner, a hospitalized anorexic girl. Amber is doing her hair]
Becky Ann Leeman: [entering with a box of chocolates] What? Oh my God, lights, camera and me without a stitch of makeup on! What are you guys doing here?
Amber Atkins: What are you doing here?
Becky Ann Leeman: Oh, Amber, like you're the only one who visits Mary.
Mary Johanson: Who are you?
Becky Ann Leeman: Who are you? Oh, Mary, you kill me!
[to the camera]
Becky Ann Leeman: She always says that, it's a little game we play, every week, same dippy little look on her face, "Who are you? Who are you?" Just like that. It's me, Becky. Mmmm, and I brought your favourites.
[she gives her the box of chocolates]
Amber Atkins: Real nice, Becky, she's anorexic.
Becky Ann Leeman: [covering Mary's ears] She's skinny, Amber, not deaf.

Gladys Leeman: [wearing her old pageant outfit] And can you believe it, they still fit!
Loretta: She had a big ass then, she's got a big ass now.

Mount Rose Mayor: [about the town sign, which says "Home of Freda Hegstrom, Minnesota's Oldest Living Lutheran"] Oh, yeah, sure, Freda, sure. She was the oldest living Lutheran, now she's dead as a doornail. It's the damn Shriners who won't take down the Goddamn sign, the lazy sons of bitches. Every year, every damn year, I tell 'em, "Take down the Goddamn Freda sign, you lazy sons of bitches!"

Iona Hildebrandt: I was Mount Rose American Teen Princess 1945. We were at war with the Japs. Didn't even get to keep my damn tiara. Had to turn it in for scrap.

Leslie Miller: Oh yeah... really nervous... it's been about, 2 months. I haven't told my boyfriend yet. How did you know?
Leslie Miller: OH! You mean about the pageant! Yeah!

Jenelle Betz: [at the contestant interviews] The tard's pants are completely off
Harold Vilmes: [everyone looks at Hank who is obviously spanking his monkey] Close up shop! Close up shop!

Amber Atkins: [as Annette is being driven away in an ambulance] Mom! I'll be right behind you in the hearse!
Loretta: Don't let that worry you Annette!

* My favorite scene in Drop Dead Gorgeous:

There are few moments in life as jaw dropping as the first time you see Becky Ann Leeman demonstrating her love for Christ by slow dancing with Jesus on a crucifix.  I mean, I'm not sure that will ever be topped in a movie.  Also, I love that I just ranked the anorexic girl's farewell song as my -second- favorite and most offensive moment in this movie.

Drop Dead Gorgeous at the IMDB

Drop Dead Gorgeous at Wikipedia

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