“Boys get money and scholarships for making a lot of touchdowns, right? Why shouldn’t a girl get one for being cute and charming?”
A group of teenage beauty queens — including Miss Anaheim (Annette O’Toole) and Miss Antelope Valley (Robin Gibson) — compete in California’s Young American Miss Pageant.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Beauty Contests
- Bruce Dern Films
- Michael Ritchie Films
- Satires and Spoofs
- Small Town America
Smile — directed by Michael Ritchie — is beloved by many critics and fans as the original (and probably the best) “beauty pageant satire”, long before disappointments like 1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous made it to the big screen. The fact that beauty pageants are “easy pickings” for spoofing makes writer Jerry Belson’s relative success here especially notable: everything about this fictional pageant rings true, from the pride felt by former Young American Miss Barbara Feldon as the contestants’ advice-spinning “den mother” to the sense of “civic duty” possessed by Bruce Dern’s RV-salesman-cum-pageant judge (Dern is fabulous, as always). I especially like the fact that an expected rivalry between the two primary protagonists — seasoned contestant Annette O’Toole (note-perfect in her early role here) and more serious newcomer Robin Gibson — never materializes, and that the outcome of the pageant itself is truly unexpected. The presence of real-life choreographer Michael Kidd as an overpaid but effectual dance director also works surprisingly well. Even some of the more slapsticky elements of the screenplay — i.e., Dern’s pubescent son (Eric Shea) colluding with two buddies to sell nude photographs of the girls — come across as convincing and humorous.
Unfortunately, however, not all elements of Belson’s over-long screenplay work. A subplot involving Feldon’s midlife-crisis-suffering husband (Nicholas Pryor) and his participation (with Dern) in an inane fraternal ritual involving roosters seems completely out of place (especially when his deteriorating relationship with Feldon turns unexpectedly violent), and I’m disturbed by the girls’ rabid, generally accepted hostility towards the only non-White contestant (Maria O’Brien) in the competition. Overall, however, Smile remains an enjoyable time capsule comedy, one which possesses some enduring insights into the world of competitive pageantry.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bruce Dern as “Big Bob”
- Annette O’Toole as “Miss Anaheim”
- “Little Bob”‘s naughty escapades
- Jerry Belson’s often clever screenplay
Yes, as an enjoyable satire. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.