credit: Castle Rock Pictures

Review: Miss Congeniality (2000) ***

It’s fun to reflect on how many romcoms tackled issues we’ve recently begun to frame in different ways, like gender. I recently watched Kate & Leopold to find Kate had abandoned something “soft and feminine” about herself to become shielded in masculinity, which doesn’t actually do anything to protect her; Gracie Hart is dealing with a very similar dilemma, with a different outcome.

Either of these women might identify as nonbinary born a generation or two down. What once felt like stories about tomboys confronting what that means in their lives can currently be framed as conflicts with the very gender binaries that the movies otherwise fully reinforce.

In this case, Gracie Hart has become overtly hostile to her gender. She’s as quick to express sexist sentiments as the men in her FBI office, who gather around computers to howl over photo manipulations of coworkers in swimwear, eagerly watch surveillance footage for boobs, and make it clear that Actual Women are mostly meat.

No wonder Gracie doesn’t want to identify with women. Her career in law enforcement is contingent on getting along with these guys. But she found that men were always intimidated by her strong (arguably masculine) and aggressive personality, even as a kid; these butch elements are inherent to Gracie.

Hence she enters her Sexy Transformation Phase with full hostility, disgusted to be thrown into a world where she’s expected to eat nothing fun for vanity. She doesn’t love having her hamclam waxed. She mostly likes using her hotness to taunt the man who is weak enough to be attracted to her, which is so relatable. (Benjamin Bratt in the year 2000, please call me. Sooo cute.)

Forcible enfranchisement in feminine beauty rituals gives Gracie an “in” with other women at the pageant. As much as Gracie has come to hate her gender, her gender embraces her lovingly, joyfully, and brings her into the fold.

Before long, Gracie’s no longer faking it around her new cross-country friends from the pageant. It’s nice to see Gracie having fun with people who don’t toss insults about her looks every two seconds. And when her fellow women realize she’s clueless with makeup, they make sure Gracie is competition-ready, despite being competitors. That’s sisterhood, baby.

Gracie learns the gift of feminine strength. Meanwhile, a fabulous Candace Bergen acts as her villainous foil. Bergen’s character has been running the beauty pageant for her entire career, and now she’s going to get fired. She hates *everything*. But she decides to take it out on the women, planning to literally tear the crown from the winner’s head via incendiary device.

It’s a nice classic romantic suspense story that I would (as always) prefer ended with Absolute Lesbianism. There are a few good laughs, a lot of really good actors (a couple moments of “hey! that guy!”). Of course, All Gracie Lou Freebushes are Bastards, but we can’t fix every character flaw in a single movie.

Image credit: Castle Rock Pictures

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