Vulgar at their most amusing and cruel at their most destructive, beauty pageants make great TV shows and terrible movie subjects. Between Bert Parks and JonBenet Ramsey, who needs fictional comedy or tragedy?
Certainly the beauty biz deserves better than the antsy and dispiriting Beautiful. This dyspeptic drama, the feature directorial debut of Sally Field (who has talked about her own past history with self-image insecurity in interviews), stars Minnie Driver as Mona Hubbard, a prisoner of lip gloss whose loveless, hard-luck childhood dreams of winning a tiara and a title turn into an adult obsession with winning a tiara and a title. How obsessed? Since rules exclude mothers from competition, Mona, a single parent, pretends her daughter (sparky little advertising darling Hallie Kate Eisenberg) is the child of her oldest, most selfless, naturally prettiest best friend, Ruby (Chasing Amy's Joey Lauren Adams).
Not one female character escapes mockery or patronizing in this supposed indictment of ''looksism'' and the tyranny of women triumphing over other women. (Kathleen Turner as a caricatured pageant organizer comes in for special ridicule.) And as has been the case too often in her fashion-mag-oriented career, Driver herself appears far more interested in coordinating her wardrobe and makeup than in inhabiting her character's unattractively messed-up psyche. D+