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Sunday, May 6, 2001
Wide Angle

Miss Congeniality is far from congenial
By Ervell E. Menezes

MISS Congeniality is a comedy of sorts. Some good lines, some good situations, a few good laughs but not fare that will sustain the viewer for two hours. Thatís asking for too much of this rather banal subject, but then thatís what Sandra Bullock wanted to do and she got her chance.

As a producer, Bullock decided to give her comic talents a chance. Bullock has been the single woman of the 1990s, professional, afraid of involvement, shy ó almost like the girl next door of old ó but in the new socio-professional, environment and naturally in the post-womenís lib era. But she certainly evoked empathy. I always thought she was more human or vulnerable and therefore more credible than the oozing charm, gushing Julia Roberts who always seems to play a part and if you saw her Oscars acceptance performance this year it only reiterates what is put on, false and hypocritical in life.

But for Sandra Bullock, it meant growth in the film industry and this after a good deal of hard work. Hope she realises her mistake and tries something more endurable. She has the talent and the single-minded devotion to duty to do it.

In Miss Congeniality Gracie Hart (Bullock) is an FBI agent about to be put in cold storage because of her daredevil but at times foolhardy ways. And it is only her colleague Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt) who still retains some faith in her ability. So, when a terrorist threatens to bomb the Miss United States pageant Miss Hart is asked to go under cover as Gracie Lou Freebrush, one of the contestants.

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A scene from Miss Congeniality For the awkward, tomboyish Gracie to be groomed into a beauty contestant is good for laughs, at least for starters. And pompous pageant consultant Victor Melling (Michael Caine) wastes no time telling her just that. "I havenít seen anyone walk like this since Jurassic Park," he says. It is here that the film gets most of its laughs, thanks to some good lines with Michael Caine delivering most of them in his inimitable style.

But once you get to the beauty pageant, the film plods on rather painfully, being trite and superficial by turns and Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen), the socialite who runs the pageant, cuts a sorry figure. It is more of a caricature and it is indeed sad to see the beauty of yesteryear Candice Bergen suffering through it. Whatís more action director Donald Petrie, like Bullock, struggles in this new genre.

To cut a long story short, Miss Congeniality flatters only to deceive. If it is meant to display female camaraderie during the beauty show, it wastes too much time doing so. If it is meant to be funny, it succeeds only in patches. The oldies ó Michael Caine, William Shatner and Candice Bergen ó look their age and struggle through their parts with Caineís lines rescuing him from mediocrity.

Bullock, with all her funny facial expressions, is just not a natural comedian and when she says "for the first time in my life I feel Iím in the right place at the right time," do not for one instant mistake it for her comic mould. As for Benjamin Bratt he comes off rather well as Mr Nobody inasmuch as Miss Congeniality is far from being congenial at all. The plight of immigrants in the country of their adoption is becoming grist for the celluloid mill and it didnít start with Mississippi Masala. Hyderabad Blues was cute but the same cannot be said about The Inscrutable Americans, which is at best, quite amateurish.

Gopal (Rajeev Punja) is a small-town Andhra boy who arrives in the United States to study mechanical engineering. Conservative, religious and under the stewardship of a strict father, Gopal is destined to face a traumatic experience in "the Promised Land". But, he is basically simple, and this endears him to his friends.

Randy (Eron Otcasex) is his American friend who unravels many a mystery to this country bumpkin ó from bargaining in the supermarket to double-dating ó all raise laughter. Based on a book by Anurag Mathur, the screenplay by Chandra Siddartha and Sundeep Muppidi is rather simplistic and director Siddartha is always struggling with the subject.

For one thing, Gopal is too much the focal point. A sub-plot would have helped. Then, the characters Gopal encounters are wafer-thin, especially the women, Sue (Jana Williams), Gloria (Staci Cobb) and Ann (Ronnie Gannascoli). As for Rajeev Punja in the lead role, he is always stiff and self-conscious, like the film. May be it can be blamed on the accessibility of the film medium. Quite avoidable.

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