Miss Congeniality

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The ViewDunedin Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/03/2001

3 stars out of 5
Running time: 109 mins

Enjoyable comedy that succeeds thanks to an appealing performance by Bullock and a tongue-in-cheek supporting cast.

When Sandra Bullock made the sleeper hit rom-com While You Were Sleeping back in 1995, audiences sat up and took notice, believing a challenger to Meg Ryan’s position of Queen of Romantic Comedy had arrived. Sadly, she initially steered away from pure comedy and every subsequent film she made was somehow disappointing, from the disastrous (Speed 2) to the simply-ignored (28 Days).

It’s something of a relief, then, that Miss Congeniality finds her back on superb comic form, even if the film itself isn’t up to the standard of her earlier hit. Bullock plays FBI Agent Gracie Hart, a tomboy given to breaking the rules and annoying her superiors. She’s also supremely nerdy, with a loud snorting laugh, an unkempt, geeky appearance and a collection of disgusting eating habits that would make a five year-old blush.

However, when the Miss America Pageant receives bomb threats, Gracie is the only FBI Agent capable of filling out a swimsuit and she reluctantly goes undercover as a contestant. She’s aided in her transformation by Michael Caine’s supremely bitchy make-over expert and her FBI team leader (and love interest) Benjamin Bratt (better known in the States as Julia Roberts’ latest boyfriend).

The set-up, then, is fairly simple and it’s not hard to spot both the killer and the eventual contest winner by the time the cast -including William Shatner as the almost-past-it MC, Candice Bergen as the pageant organiser and the various contestants- have been introduced. That said, the film isn’t really concerned with the plot and instead concentrates on milking laughs from the comic performances of Bullock and her co-stars.

In fact, the performances are generally superb and the film is worth seeing for Bullock, Caine and Shatner alone. Shatner in particular is superb, gamely sending himself up and appearing to thoroughly enjoy the whole thing – his singing scene is a highlight, though the film-makers foolishly neglect to include any actual shots of him as he sings. Caine is excellent, too, wisely underplaying the camp side to his character and delivering his snide one-liners as a sort of grumpy Henry Higgins.

The only let-down in the cast is Benjamin Bratt – he’s unbearably smug and irritating for most of the film and you can’t help but feel that Bullock could do better. (In his defence, he’s basically stuck with the ‘girlfriend’ role and it’s probably safe to say that bigger stars turned it down). As good as the supporting cast are, though, it’s really Sandra Bullock’s film and she delivers an extremely appealing performance, even making the ‘ugly duckling’ transformation believable - it has to be said, she looks fabulous once she emerges from Caine’s industrial-strength make-over.

There are some nice little throwaway details too – watch for her ‘special talent’ and her annoyingly-cute-yet-somehow-infectious singsong ‘catchphrase’ ("You li-ike me" etc). If the film has a fault, it’s that the script could have done with a final polish, as there are times when the one-liners fall flat and you’ll probably be able to think of better ones yourself. Also, they overplay several of the gags – notably Bullock not quite getting the hang of high-heels.

On balance, though, this delivers its fair share of laughs and is generally worth seeing, if not quite destined for classic status. The title refers to the Miss America pageant award given to "the person who was nicest to everyone", and this seems perfectly apt for Bullock’s winning performance.

American audiences thought so too – it was a sizeable hit over there and will probably do well here too.

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Content updated: 24/05/2019 02:58

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