A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Sometimes I wonder how anyone could have thought a screenplay was funny enough to film. The script for "Drop Dead Gorgeous," on the other hand, must have been a funny read. It's the movie that somehow never achieves takeoff speed. Subtle miscalculations of production and performance are probably responsible; comedy is a fragile rose, eager to wilt.
The movie takes place in Mount Rose, Minn., a setting created after long study of "Fargo." The 50th anniversary of the Miss Teen Princess America contest is approaching, and the local chairwoman is former winner Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley), whose daughter Becky (Denise Richards) is a leading contender. Her big competition: trailer-park cutie Amber (Kirsten Dunst), whose alcoholic mother, Annette (Ellen Barkin), is burned in a fire and spends much of the movie with a beer can permanently fused to the flesh of her hand.
Now there's an example of how a mental image can be funnier than a real one--how a screenplay can fail to translate. You possibly smiled as you read about Annette's hand being fused to a beer can. I did as I wrote the words. But the image of the charred can embedded in scarred flesh is not funny, and every time it turns up, it casts its little pall.
Another example: One of the contestants has put herself on a 400-calorie-a-day diet and is a patient at a recovery center for anorexics. Nevertheless, she's determined to compete in the pageant, and arrives onstage in a wheelchair. Funny as a satirical concept? Yes. Funny as a sight? No, because the concept, not the image, contains the joke.