This sometimes amusing farce gives me the opportunity to plug a few far greater comedies that it echoes:
Smile also shares the beauty contest motif, but works it into a small town setting where the teen beauty pageant becomes an exhausting force that draws out suppressed pain and disappointment. Bruce Dern, who was mostly known for playing psychos, does an uncanny job suggesting all that is wrong with the average small-town citizen. Barbara Feldon is also amazing as the disillusioned ex-winner turned ice queen pageant director. Yet it’s not heartless, and the small degree to which the characters can still genuinely emote is touching.
Little Murders is heartless. It was directed by Alan Arkin, who has the best role in LIttle Miss Sunshine, and he did an appropriately ghastly job with Jules Feiffer’s script. Elliott Gould plays a catastrophically depressed photographer in New York in the bad old days of random violence, anomie, and paranoia. Awful things happen. It’s constructed as a series of setpieces, but enough of them are brilliant to keep things moving along. Donald Sutherland’s reverend probably has the best bit, but I’ve always had a weakness for the scene where Gould returns to his parents to be consoled and…I won’t give it away.
And as far as pre-teen beauty pageants go, I think Chris Morris (scroll down to “BRASS EYE”) had the best, shortest commentary on it all.