Monday, March 04, 2013

Films of Michael Caine: Miss Congeniality

Cast: Sandra Bullock (Gracie Hart), Michael Caine (Victor Melling), Benjamin Bratt (Eric Matthews), Candice Bergen (Kathy Morningside), William Shatner (Stan Fields), Ernie Hudson (McDonald), John DiResta (Agent Clonsky), Heather Burns (Cheryl “Rhode Island”), Melissa De Sousa (Karen “New York”), Steve Monroe (Frank Tobin), Deirdre Quinn (Mary Jo “Texas”), Wendy Raquel Robinson (Leslie “California”).
Crew: Donald Petrie (director), Sandra Bullock (producer), Marc Lawrence and Katie Ford and Caryn Lucas (writers), Ed Shearmur (music), Laszlo Kovacs (cinematography), Billy Weber (editor), Peter Larkin (production designer).

Synopsis: Gracie Hart is a mannish agent for the FBI. The FBI receives a letter from the Citizen, a domestic terrorist, who threatens to attack the Miss United States beauty pageant in Texas. Gracie is chosen to go undercover as a contestant. The FBI employs a pageant consultant called Victor Melling to make Gracie a credible candidate. She gets a makeover and emerges as a beautiful woman, to the surprise of her boss Eric Matthews. Forensic tests suggest the threatening letter was sent by a woman. Gracie believes the pageant organiser, Kathy Morningside, is involved. But the FBI arrests the real terrorist in Nevada and close down the operation in Texas. Gracie decides to stay at the pageant, believing Kathy is planning a copycat bombing. Gracie realises the bomb is hidden in the winner’s tiara. She throws the tiara into the air just as Kathy detonates the bomb. Afterwards the other contestants give Gracie the title of Miss Congeniality…


This screwball comedy was created in 1999 as a vehicle for producer/actress Sandra Bullock. Donald Petrie was brought on board as director, having previous helmed hits like Mystic Pizza (1988) and Grumpy Old Men (1993). Caine was hired to play gay beauty pageant consultant Victor Melling soon after receiving his Oscar nomination as best supporting actor for The Cider House Rules (1999). ‘I couldn’t refuse working with Sandra Bullock,’ he told Variety.

In the film’s press book Caine discussed why he accepted the part: ‘What I liked about the role was that it was funny, it was different and it was a comedy. In my most recent films, I played the man who destroyed the Marquis de Sade, an abortionist and a very violent gangster. After reading the script and finding it such a great comedy, it was such a relief. I said, “I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it.” I was just dying to get a laugh on set.’

He started work on the $45 million movie in May 2000, soon after finishing his performance as the lead in Shiner (2000). The bulk of Miss Congeniality was shot in Austin, Texas, with brief location work in San Antonio and New York. Caine studied with a Texan pageant expert for his role as Victor and also sought tips from wife Shakira, who came third in the 1967 Miss World contest. The picture reunited Caine with Candice Bergen, with whom he had co-starred more than thirty years earlier in The Magus (1968). The actor predicted significant success for Miss Congeniality. ‘It’s very funny. I think it will be a great vehicle for Sandra,’ he told Variety just before the picture opened.

The film was released across America in December 2000, rated PG-13. Reviews were mixed but Miss Congeniality became a Christmas hit at the box office, grossing more than $105 million – the biggest hit of Caine’s career at that time. This success was echoed around the world. In Britain the 12-rated movie opened in March 2001 and grossed more than $15 million. It was released on video and DVD later in the year. The DVD includes two commentary tracks, deleted scenes and documentaries. In 2002 some entertainment media reported work had already begun on a sequel in which Bullock’s character would use her new-found beauty queen skills to become a model and hunt for a serial killer. Producers were reported to be hopeful of persuading Caine to reprise his role.

Reviews: ‘Miss Congeniality is yet another miscalculated vehicle for the ever-feisty Sandra Bullock … Caine has a fine time as the makeover master even if he’s vastly overqualified for the modest assignment.’ – Variety
‘Gossamer-thin entertainment of the sort that would make for an inoffensive first-date movie. There is a complete inconsequential feel to the whole exercise.’ – Empire

Verdict: Miss Congeniality is a lightweight film that amuses you while its happening, but doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny. The movie wants to have its cake and eat it, scoring laughs from the baroque excesses of beauty pageants while still holding up the contestants as admirable for using their good looks to get ahead. The anorexic plot is just a vehicle for Bullock to exhibit her not inconsiderable comedic skills. Still, everyone hits their marks nicely, with Caine offering a delicate, understated performance as a disappointed gay man. Miss Congeniality is disposable fun – nothing more, nothing less.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its better than stated here. Critics should take a page from Mr Caine's book and not take themselves so seriously. He is also not overqualified - he actually makes the movie work because the plot gains balance - it is not then just a vehicle for Sandra B. Only an actor of his stature could do that. And $45 million box office says many agree.