Miss Congeniality (2000)

screenshot from Miss Congeniality

Directed by: Donald Petrie
Screenwriter(s): Marc Lawrence
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson, Heather Burns
Genre: Comedy
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 46m
Rating: 8 out of 10

Sandra Bullock not only stars, but also doubles as producer, in this comedy that has no surprises at all but always entertains. The plot involves Gracie Hart (Bullock), a messy, plain FBI agent, going undercover as a contestant in the Miss United States beauty pageant in a bid to foil a terrorist threat from one of the country’s most infamous criminals, the Citizen.

Gracie’s superior, Eric Matthews (Bratt) decides that Gracie is the only female agent of the right age, but thinks she looks like “a train wreck,” so former top beauty pageant consultant Victor Melling (Caine) is hired to transform Gracie – or as he re-names her, Dirty Harriet – into Gracie Lou Freebush, the perfect pageant contestant. This is a considerable challenge, considering Victor sees Gracie as a woman ‘without a detectable smidgen of estrogen’. Pageant Director, Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen), and MC Stan Fields (a sadly under-utilised William Shatner), are also initially unimpressed with their latest contestant.

Infiltrating the pageant, Gracie becomes the confidant of the other 49 contestants and soon begins to suspect that the Citizen is not to blame for this latest threat, but that the real threat comes from someone closer to the pageant.

It’s all quite formulaic stuff as you might expect but there are some real comic highlights, particularly the opening scene where Bullock uses her FBI credentials to get to the front of the queue in Starbuck’s, and the talent section of the competition which features Bullock dressed inexplicably in a Heidi costume.

Of course, Sandra Bullock is only ever plain in the movie-star sense of the word, which involves not brushing her hair and wearing unattractive nightwear at home, so it’s not much of a stretch for her to become a beauty contestant. It’s the same category of suspension of disbelief that allows you to accept that the judicious use of Brylcreem and a pair of glasses stops anyone from figuring out that Clark Kent is Superman. But the film (and Bullock) acknowledges this well-worn trope, and Gracie doesn’t suddenly become poised and elegant just because she’s straightened her clothes and hair; she’s still blunt and klutzy and very much Gracie.

The relationship between Caine (who, along with Bergen, is clearly enjoying himself tremendously) and Bullock is well-developed and touchingly believable, much more so than the slightly-forced romance with Bratt, which seems tacked on as an afterthought.

This is, however, Bullock’s movie and she shines throughout, reminding us why she remains a solid A-list movie star (and Oscar winner). Justifiably a worldwide hit, this is the ideal popcorn movie. Disconnect your brain and enjoy.