Beautiful is a girl-buddy movie disguised as a beauty-pageant send-up. You have to realize three things: First, guys will hate it. Second, it’s the directorial debut of actress Sally Field. (We applaud her for having finally made it in the Big Boys’ game at age 54. On the other hand, you gotta wonder why she’d choose such a conflicted project to do it with.) Third, don’t believe the ads: This is not a drama. Beautiful is a fairy tale, a mythic quest for the New Female, in which young Princess Self-Absorbed seeks fame and finds not Prince Charming, but her young daughter. What’s great about Beautiful is its giddy ambitiousness: mini-Busby Berkeley dance routines, a hilarious talent contest, sparkling costumes, terrific set design (in the first half of the movie — did they blow their whole budget for sets early on?), some wonderfully bitchy dialogue, and most importantly, a long list of terrific actresses, from kindergarten age to old age. It’s mind-boggling, though, how scattered this movie is, like an unraveled tapestry that got hung up for public view before being repaired. Except for getting pregnant off-screen, heroine Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) has no relationship with men whatsoever. In fact, there’s no maleness in the movie at all, and it’s totally devoid of beauty’s partner, sex appeal. And although credited to one writer (relative newcomer Jon Bernstein), the script has so many Wonder Bra-sized gaps in it, you know at least some of the blame must lie elsewhere, probably somewhere among the movie’s producers (15 of them, for pity’s sake!). Small-town, big-dreaming Mona (Colleen Rennison) hungers to be beautiful. Specifically, she wants to be crowned beautiful and wear that tilting tiara. She acquires a devoted friend, Ruby (the kooky Jacqueline Steiger), a costume-making genius who devotes the rest of her life (why, we never know) to advancing Mona’s beauty career. Mona gets pregnant. Fast-forward seven years. Mona, Ruby (now played by Joey Lauren Adams of Chasing Amy) and the smart-mouthed little Vanessa (Pepsi-Cola’s darling, Hallie Kate Eisenberg) all live together, sans men, sans much money, but with Vanessa’s growing suspicion that — horrors! — she looks exactly like her awful “Aunt” Mona! The countdown for the Miss America Miss title has begun, but with mothers barred from competing, Mona faces her Big Decision: Does she win the contest and become a phony role model to little girls everywhere, or tell the truth and be Right to just one little girl? (It’s a fairy tale, remember.) And truth is, the darn movie actually stays with you. Why? Despite its silliness, Beautiful has many small, lovely scenes in which director Fields allowed her actresses to shine. It’s these slivers of magic that make parts of the movie, at least, quite beautiful (especially for mothers to enjoy with their daughters and talk about together afterward).
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