Miss Congeniality-Outdated Feminism

Before someone tries to throw hands at me about the title, let me clarify that I do admire this movie, and have seen it more than once. However, as I get older and watch it with new nuance, I see some critiques of this enduring classic.

The story follows FBI agent Gracie Hart (alias Gracie Lou Freebush) as she infiltrates the Miss United States pageant to catch an unexpected villain. I almost feel like the second scene is misleading. The prologue tells us who we have, the second scene leads us to believe we’re in an intense action movie, and then it pivots to an office!

Two standout supporting characters are Kathy Morningside and Victor Melling. Candice Bergen makes a meal of her bland role and entertains us as pageant director Kathy Morningside. No one with a name that cheerful can be trusted, and Ms. Morningside soon turns into a storm. While entertaining and campy, Caine’s stylist Vic is a two-dimensional stereotype that does no good for authentic representation

The two shining elements that pull the plot together are Gracie’s relationships with Vic and Cheryl. Cheryl is a shy contestant who opens up to Gracie and finds some confidence. r endearing earnestness helps her steal the show and eventually the title of Miss USA. In addition to being her stylist and consultant, Vic morphs into a father figure for Gracie, and they  ultimately winning Miss United States and being saved from explosion.

April 25th

Everyone knows that April 25th is the best day of the year! Cheryl’s “airhead moment” has become an iconic meme. 

While the movie ostensibly shows a strong female embracing other strong females, subtle misogyny abounds and is hard to miss in a post-#MeToo era. 

4 minutes in, a waitress is insulted with the line “this broad’s got two asses”. Right off the bat, this is the kind of subtle language that annoys me about this movie. Even before the pageant starts, the group that picks the agent to participate is made up of ten )males and one female. It’s a free-for-all of objectification and debauchery. (17:08-19:10). Once the pageant starts, Gracie wears a camera, and her male colleagues have a disgusting field day with what they see.

In addition, Gracie Hart is unnaturally forced into a romance with her colleague Eric Matthews, played by adorable Benjamin Bratt. While Hart and Matthews have an entertaining rapport as colleagues, there was no justifiable reason to force shift to romance at the end of the movie. The subtle flirtations and misdirects are one thing, but 

A Brief Shining Moment

This is one of the most straightforwardly feminist moments of the movie. While I don’t like the word “liberating” being used to describe a beauty pageant, I like her attitude shift and commitment to her friends

It’s not about her “becoming a beauty contestant”, but about her learning to operate out of her femininity as well as her masculinity. We also get to see Gracie make real friends, which is endearing

While an entertaining and colorful romp, Miss Congeniality doesn’t hold up as a positive example 20 years after its release. For a colorful Sandra Bullock comedy, I recommend The Proposal and for an epic Sandra Bullock action movie, i recommend The Heat (for adults only). Miss Congeniality gets 7/10 for a strong cast, a good soundtrack, and genuine humor and heart. Three points docked for the misogyny and the unnecessary romance. A great choice for a tween slumber party, or a “throwback classics” night, 

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