Cult film of the week: Drop Dead Gorgeous

Credit-New Line Cinema

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a fabulous 1999 black comedy mockumentary about the Mount Rose American Teen Princess beauty contest set in 1990s small town America. The competition is fierce between a girl who wins everything, the daughter of the head of the pageant committee, Becky (Denise Richards) who’s been trained for this her whole life and a trailer park beauty Amber (Kirsten Dunst) who dreams of getting out of small town America and become the next Diane Sawyer. Soon the competition gets out of hand as contestants start dropping dead.

Joining Denise Richard and Kirsten Dunst in this ensemble film are some incredibly talented women including Ellen Barkin, as Amber’s crazy trailer park mom Annette, her best friend Loretta (Allison Janney) who fills a maternal role in Amber’s life, Kirstie Alley as Becky’s mom Gladys Leeman, the richest woman in town and former Mount Rose American Teen Princess winner. Other contestants include Lisa Swenson (Brittany Murphy) who is only participating because “it’s expected of you if you’re 17 and live in this town” and the dumb blonde Leslie Miller (the delightful Amy Adams in her film debut).

The film parodies the real life experiences of its screenwriter Lona Williams, who grew up in a town called Rosemount and was a beauty pageant runner up at America’s Junior Miss in 1985. However, one would hope that it is an exaggerated version of real life pageants. There is constant drama, and a contestant will go to any lengths to get rid of the competition including arson and deadly on-stage traps. One would also hope that real life talent competitions aren’t as bad as the one in the film, featuring Denise Richards performing a deaf tone version of “Can’t take my eyes of you” with Jesus on the cross.

Credit-New Line Cinema
Photo credit New Line Cinema

As with most cult films, this one was initially a flop both commercially and critically but time, VHS and DVDs and plenty of teenage slumber parties, have led people to come around to this hilarious film. Allison Janney, in fact,said that she gets approached by more fans because of this film than because of her long tenure in the West Wing. Nothing is sacred and everything is fair game for comedy as the movie pokes fun at the Jesus freaks in the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, the local pervert who joins the judging panel, and the Minnesotan accent. The film is infinitely quotable including some memorable gems like “Jesus loves winners”. Although it loses its plot about half way through, and the last part of it is not as interesting as the main beauty pageant, it is definitely worth the watch. The best way to enjoy the film is just to accept how incredibly silly it is. The film used to be quite hard to find, but now everyone can enjoy it on Netflix.


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