A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
At first I was thinking the beauty contest in "Miss Firecracker" was too impossibly cornball to be true, but then I remembered the county fair queens of my youth - teenage girls made up to within an inch of their lives and trotted out in their formal gowns to parade in the heat of an August afternoon, downwind from the hog judging, which always took place at about the same time. These contests were run by selfless volunteers, usually men of a certain age whose obsession with the rules and regulations helped them to sublimate their lust for the fairway beauties. The one thing I could sense, even as a kid covering the canned-goods competition for the local paper, was that these girls were desperate to prove something, and it had little to do with glamor.
In "Miss Firecracker," the playwright Beth Henley has taken such a contest, the Fourth of July pageant in Yazoo City, Miss., and turned it into another of those Southern Gothic romances where mansions crumble and libidos boil and young women weep bitter tears because their older sisters are prettier than they are. This is not new material, but Henley replaces some of the painful sincerity with a lighthearted goofiness that cheers things up, and the movie is performed with the kind of insight that could only have been achieved by actresses who once, for a moment however brief, dreamed of themselves stepping forward with a radiant smile to accept the crown and the roses.
The film stars Holly Hunter, fresh from "Broadcast News," as Carnelle Scott, who was adopted by her cousins in the Williams family after becoming an orphan at 8. She is now somewhere in her 20s, works as a fish-gutter at the local catfish packing plant and has earned the nickname of "Miss Hot Tamale" among the local swains. But she has never quite forgotten the glorious day in 1972 when her cousin Elain (Mary Steenburgen) was named Miss Firecracker and stepped forward in all her glory and a shocking red gown. This is the summer, Carnelle has vowed, when she will finally succeed her cousin as the Fourth of July queen.
The movie opens with an assembly of the key players.