In the Dark: Beautiful
Eric D. Snider
As would-be actors labor sweatily in Los Angeles restaurants, waiting tables while waiting for their Big Break, they have one goal that keeps them going — a glistening jewel on the horizon toward which they dedicate all their energy and faith. That goal is to give up acting and become a director.
But as Sally Field recently learned with her directorial debut entitled "Beautiful," directing is more than just sitting in a high wooden chair with a beret on your head, periodically shouting "Action!" and "Cut!" No, you also have to have a good script and some idea of what you want the film to look like when it's finished.
At least, I hope Sally Field learned these things. I shudder to think she will at some point make another movie as crappy as "Beautiful."
The movie begins in 1986, by which I mean I think I started watching it in 1986 and just barely finished. By coincidence, the first part of the film is also set in that year. We meet twelve-year-old Mona Hibbard, an Illinois girl who wants nothing more than to be a beauty queen. Alas, Mona doesn't have the sort of face that normally wins pageants — that is, she's ugly — but she keeps trying anyway, desperately clinging to the hope that winning a pageant will give meaning to her drab, wretched life.
She lives with her white-trash mother, who drinks and smokes a lot and always has a headache. Living with them is Mona's stepfather, a fat, stupid man who makes sexual advances toward Mona, though the movie is unclear on whether this is supposed to be comical or grotesque; the result is a rather oily, unpleasant feeling, the kind you get when you go to the gym and then have to change clothes and go straight to work, without a chance to shower first.
Mona somehow makes a friend, the equally unpopular Ruby. Then they age a few years and become Minnie Driver and Joey Lauren Adams, respectively. By this time, Mona is completely crazy, sabotaging other contestants, sleeping with judges (and whoever else she can get the pants off of), and just generally being a selfish, manipulative beast. Ruby, who works in a convalescent home and is apparently an actual, literal angel from Heaven, continues to love Mona despite her several hundred thousand character flaws.
Mona's promiscuity leads to her getting pregnant. This is terrible, but not because it means she'll be a single mom. No, it's terrible because if she has a kid, she'll be disqualified from entering most beauty pageants. The horror! No more will she be permitted to parade her flesh before a panel of lecherous judges, having her goods compared with the goods of other air-headed vomiters! Whence shall come her self-esteem, if not from the knowledge that she is the most vacuous woman in Illinois?
Ah, but Mona has an idea. Not a good idea, mind you, but an idea. She convinces Ruby to raise the child as hers, and have the child call Mona "Aunt Mona." The movie does not show us this conversation, possibly because the screenwriter realized the whole idea was stupid, and showing us how it came to fruition would only make it seem stupider, like how you know hot dogs don't taste very good, but you suspect they'd taste even worse if you saw them being made. Somehow, Mona manages to become Miss Illinois. I say "somehow" because let's face it, Minnie Driver is not exactly beauty pageant material. I'm not saying she isn't pretty, but her face is not the airbrushed, Barbie-doll kind of face you see winning pageants, and also, she isn't pretty. Which is fine. Plenty of non-pretty people have gone very far in Hollywood. Tommy Lee Jones is one of the ugliest men ever manufactured, yet he and his gargantuan eyebrow, working in tandem, manage to get leading roles in many films. Minnie Driver is a talented actress, and a charming one, so certainly she should appear in movies. She just shouldn't be cast as a Miss America finalist, that's all.
Anyway, Mona the Dog-Faced Girl becomes Miss Illinois, much to the delight of her impossibly supportive friend Ruby and the dismay of her tomboyish, supernaturally cute daughter/niece Vanessa. Vanessa is played by the little girl in those Pepsi commercials, which means "Beautiful" will be the last item on her résumé before all the drug charges, pornographic films, and inevitable descent into oblivion.
The only consolation I have about this movie is that no one is seeing it. It was released in the major cities a few weeks ago, where it received bad reviews and made no money. So Destination Films released it in some more cities, thus enabling it to receive more bad reviews and make less money. Eventually, it will be playing in every city in the world, and the only people watching it will be the critics, who will continue to despise it. Hopefully, Sally Field hasn't quit that hostess job at Shoney's yet.