Directed by Sally Field Starring Minnie Driver, Joey Lauren Adams and Hallie Kate Eisenberg Classification: PG Rating: *
More dumb than beautiful, the feature-film directorial debut of actress Sally Field is a bubble-thin comedy, starring Minnie Driver as a beauty contestant who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.
Driver also produced the movie, making this a sort of vanity project, but it's the sort of vanity project that backfires. Driver miscasts herself as Mona, the heartlessly ambitious daughter of an alcoholic mother and a would-be child-molesting stepdad (yes, this is comedy).
Driver, who acts as though she studied Nicole Kidman in To Die For, primps, flounces, twitches her behind and dresses to blowsy excess. Though she demonstrates a forcible and busy commitment to the role, there is no real lightness about her and she seems more pit bull than coquette.
When Mona gets pregnant by one of her innumerable boyfriends, she manages to swing a deal where her friend, Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams, the nasal heroine of Chasing Amy) pretends to be the child's mother.
This allows Mona to keep on entering the talent contests, where she sabotages her competitors long enough to win the fictional Miss Illinois Miss contest, as a prelude to a national pageant. When Ruby gets thrown in jail for murder (by authorities who misunderstand her saintly character), Mona must take her bratty seven-year-old (the endlessly shrill Pepsi spokeskid, Hallie Kate Eisenberg) to California for the pageant.
On the subject of American white trash, the script is from Jon Bernstein, who previously penned the Jerry Springer vehicle Ringmaster. Beautiful has much the same spirit of mean-spirited condescension masquerading as social inclusiveness.
The results are not auspicious for fledgling film director Field, the two-time Academy Award-winning actress ( Places of the Heart, Norma Rae). Not only does she surrender to a script that wobbles between sappy and snide, but Field can't even direct well enough to maintain a coherent tone within a single scene.
This is the sort of movie where even the extras look awkward standing around in the background.
Give Beautiful low marks for misused talent, zero for poise and a large question mark over its paste-on front of congeniality.