Beautiful

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 25 2000 2:47 p.m. MDT

Make all the "Gidget" and "Flying Nun" jokes you want. The fact remains that Sally Field has made some remarkable movies, including two that won her Oscars ("Norma Rae" and "Places in the Heart").

However, that's Sally Field the actor. Sally Field the director has only one feature film to her name and that, alas, is "Beautiful."

It isn't. The picture begins with an overlong prologue introducing us to industrious little Mona, a kid with a neglectful, negative mom and a stepdad who tries to molest her when he's drunk. This straight-out-of-daytime-trash-TV home life results in Mona's becoming obsessed with beauty pageants.

Suddenly (finally?) it's 10 years later. Mona (Minnie Driver) is still determined to become a beauty queen. It looks like she may finally have her shot. She's been named Miss Illinois Miss, making her eligible for the national Miss American Miss title. Standing in her way? Well, there's her checkered history of sabotaging pageant rivals. And a scheming TV anchor who's up to no good. And the small matter of having had a child (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) sometime in her teens, whom she has foisted onto her best friend (Joey Lauren Adams) to raise as hers (see, a Miss American Miss is supposed to be a Miss, which pretty much excludes motherhood).

But what's really holding Mona back is her gosh-golly-darn lack of self-esteem.

Jon Berstein's script — he wrote the Jerry Springer movie "Ringmaster," which, come to think of it, may explain a lot — can't decide whether it's an earnest, follow-that-dream melodrama about a misfit who refuses to give up, or a scathing satire of beauty contests. In trying to be both, it ends up neither.

The succinct intelligence, intuition and craft that Field brought to her acting seems to have deserted her in her new role as director. "Beautiful" is embarrassingly overdone, whether it's trying for comedy or poignancy. Do we really need the molestation subplot (more like a molestation moment)? Do we really need to see all five Miss American Misses' talent competitions? And how bad does a movie have to be to squash the freshness out of "Chasing Amy's" irrepressible Adams?

Driver and Eisenberg — she's the supposedly adorable tyke on those ubiquitous Pepsi ads — do look enough alike to be related. More to the point, they share a similarly ruthless predilection for camera hogging.

There's a neediness — in Driver's performance and Field's direction — that ultimately undercuts their efforts. Neediness, alas, isn't beautiful. It isn't even cute with a good personality.

"Beautiful" is rated PG-13 for scattered profanity, crude sex talk and partial female nudity. Running time: 112 minutes.

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