In the business of Hollywood, the name that sticks out as one of the most versatile actresses – in her extensive career, is Sandra Bullock. Among my most favorite stars, she is one of them; this film being one of the big reasons why.
Ever since she was a freckled-faced little girl on the playground Gracie Hart has been a tough cookie. Instead of her grade school crush defending her from bullies, she stands up for him and is resented for it. Today, she is a special FBI agent who’s just “one of the guys.” Skilled at her job, it’s the following orders part that sometimes get her in trouble – and that is the situation Gracie (Bullock) finds herself in now. On a sting operation, she nearly assisted in one of her co-worker’s deaths which puts her on desk duty until further notice. The biggest case that is occupying the FBI’s time are threatening letters that speak in riddles but never leave a clue that authorities can pursue. Until Gracie works on the letters; she de-codes the location, a beauty pageant. Now, all the FBI needs is to find a suitable female agent to go undercover. The database reveals only one candidate: Gracie Hart.
Oblivious to social graces, Gracie feels she needs nothing but her wit, badge and gun, and a diet that most women wouldn’t touch. Along with her team leader, Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt), Gracie is put in touch with a pageant consultant, Victor Melling (Michael Caine) whose long history transforming contestants is well-documented but then he’s never come up against Gracie Hart.
Given my dislike of the way reality shows portray real mothers who place their young six-year-old girl’s into beauty pageants, it is no small surprise that this was a movie I liked so well. True, it’s one I don’t watch often (something that should be remedied!) though it never ceases to bring a smile to my day. Fabulous scripting leads into a great premise and the acting is, of course, brilliantly characterized. Every part of the movie is really fun – and not the kind of “fun” that we laugh at before realizing the amusement is nothing more than a crass joke, this is actually humor that is genuine. Or most of the time it rises to this occasion. Unfortunately, for conservative viewers, there is a certain amount of politically correct material to deal with.
Some of the situations writer’s place Gracie in makes it hard to take her seriously yet I sympathize with their dilemma of contrasting the transformation she undergoes – one that is obvious but doesn’t mess with the “heart” of her personality. Watching the physical makeover she allows is amusing (in a laugh out loud kind of way) but it’s the inner workings of her character that makes us fall for her, realizing that Gracie has a big heart and she’s not about to let anyone she cares about be hurt. Similarly, the bonding of Vic and Gracie is touching leaving us rooting for the genuine truths he attempts to impart on her – hoping that the respect he shows her is something Gracie will actually fight for; which she doesn’t, instead letting her behavior be fodder for being treated like nothing more than a sex symbol. (The irony in this is that Vic isn’t exactly a moral person either!) Rounding out a fabulous cast is Heather Burns (in an adorable role!), William Shatner and Candice Bergen – it’s one that maintains great chemistry.
Memorable scenes include the "fake-cry" and the talent portion of Gracie’s competition or her attempts at being a girly-girl with Cheryl. The former scenes clearly demonstrate Bullock’s great capabilities as a physical actress (in the first, she takes literal dive and the second, she plays to the audience with great success) and the latter glimpses what a kind, easy-listener Gracie is, something we might not have expected. Being family-friendly is too much to ask of this story but for older teens, pun or no, Miss Congeniality has sass, humor and most of all, “hart.” It’s a piece of girl-power fluff that was as popular at its premiere as it is fondly thought of today.
(Parental concerns: Profanity numbers into the dozen mark, including misuse of God’s name and some crude comments about anatomy [Gracie demonstrates self-defense moves, one of which to the groin]. Sexual remarks involving the pageant contestants are made, including remarks about various body parts and references to casual sex [one girl is supposedly a virgin but later non-graphically recounts being assaulted]. Two characters are homosexual; one instance is subtle [we see him ogle other men] the other announces it to a crowd. While in surveillance vans, men ogle the women they are watching. Clothing is form-fitting with plunging necklines. Out for a night on the town, several girls get drunk. Violence is limited to a few threats and an explosion meant for a person. MPAA rating is PG13.)