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VIDEO DISCOVERY

Beauty Pageants Take It on the Chin in 'Smile'

October 18, 1990|DOUG LIST

Long before David Lynch mined the seedy underbelly of small-town life for the film "Blue Velvet" and the TV series "Twin Peaks," Michael Ritchie directed "Smile," one of the smartest, most-biting satires on the glossy veneer of middle-class America ever put on film.

The 1975 movie, recently released on videocassette, was one of a series of films that Ritchie made about America's unbending faith in traditions and pageantry, no matter how tarnished. In "The Candidate," he looked behind the scenes of a political campaign and in "The Bad News Bears," he painted a rather unseemly picture of youth baseball. In "Smile," it's a beauty pageant that takes it on the chin.

Ritchie, working from Jerry Belson's script, tracks all aspects of the event: the sincerity of the pageant organizers (perfectly played by Barbara Feldon and Bruce Dern); the cynical Hollywood choreographer forced to work beauty pageants (played by real-life dancer Michael Kidd); the back-stabbing of the contestants, and the lascivious business opportunity that Dern's young son finds in the pageant.

At the heart of "Smile" is the effort and concern that Feldon and Dern's characters put into the pageant yet fail to muster for their families. The little-known but always excellent actor Nicholas Pryor plays Feldon's alcoholic husband, the film's dark character who reminds both his wife and best friend (Dern) that life isn't always as lovely as the young contestants they fawn over.

The reason, no doubt, that this underrated film was released on video is the presence of 18-year-old Melanie Griffith as one of the contestants. But the reason to see "Smile" is for its subtle humor, fascinating characters and dead-on commentary about the dirty reality behind the choreographed perfection of pageantry.

"Smile" (1975), directed by Michael Ritchie. 113 minutes. Rated PG .

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