Mocking the culture of beauty pageants is almost too easy --- frighteningly healthy egos, nauseating answers to asinine questions, and a cheese factor that would make a brick of Velveeta turn green with envy. A woman's fitness is assessed using a highly scientific method that involves strutting in swimsuits and stilettos? That certainly seems foolproof.
Michael Ritchie's broad satire Smile stars Bruce Dern as Big Bob Freelander, a cheery RV salesman who annually judges the California leg of the Young American Miss pageant, which brings 23 teenage girls to Santa Rosa so they can be leered at, browbeaten, and hopefully win a TV. The film chronicles the days leading up to the contest, during which we meet the intense pageant coordinator, her despondent husband, the deceptively gruff pageant director, and a semi-secret society that dresses like the Klan, but with cockscombs.
Besides a young Melanie Griffith, Smile also stars Agent 99, Juliette Lewis's dad, and the guy who played the British neighbor on The Jeffersons. The 1975 film is charmingly dated, featuring Me Decade staples like the naughty drink dispenser, horny kids wielding an instant camera (well, that's actually timeless), bodysuits, and even a reference to the gas crisis that uses the now-surprising term "crazy Arabs." Remember the gas crisis? Lucky we got that oil situation straightened out.
And make sure to stick around for Smile's closing credits if you'd like to get a leisurely look at Griffith pre-augmentation.
Smile screens Saturday, July 16, at the Dryden Theatre.
--- Dayna Papaleo