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Twenty-five years after this film about the Young America Miss contest was filmed in Santa Rosa, California, the fates sent me to that lovely town on business. During lunch in a local restaurant, I did an impression of one of the film's lines: "What does Santa Rosa think about that?" and half a dozen heads turned to stare at me in shock and anger. If a single line from a movie can still upset the local power structure of a self-satisfied town a quarter-century later, it must be doing something right. In fact, writer Jerry Belson, director Michael Ritchie and a great cast of veteran or young actors did about everything right. Funny, insightful and true. What more can a smart viewer want from a movie?
All the beauty contestants have to "Smile" in this 1975 film written by
Jerry Belson and directed by Michael Ritchie. It's a take-off on
pageants and American values in the '70s. It stars Barbara Feldon,
Bruce Dern, Michael Kidd, and Nicholas Pryor, while featuring some
familiar young faces as contestants: Melanie Griffith, Colleen Camp,
and Annette O'Toole.
Feldon is the ever-chipper but icy "Young American Miss" who has no use for her drunken husband (Pryor) and devotes herself to the pageant; she's terrific, as is Bruce Dern as a used car salesman, the main judge of the pageant who has an enterprising son with a Polaroid camera. Best of all is Michael Kidd as the choreographer. Kidd started out as a ballet dancer, moved to Broadway, and finally Hollywood where he danced, acted, and choreographed, later adding directing to his list of talents. Here, he gives a wonderful performance as a choreographer whose cynicism and toughness hides a heart of gold.
There are too many vignettes among the contestants to describe - the talent competition that consists of packing a suitcase, the flaming baton; the rehearsals with the orchestra are hilarious, as is the contestant looking for her butter churn.
The film hits just the right note between satire/comedy and drama. Beauty contestants haven't changed much; they all want to help people, and being brought up without a father is a distinct advantage. Boys are still horny. And never has any of this been presented in a more of a light, amusing way than in "Smile."
Extremely smart little satire that uses a state beauty pageant as a microcosm for a stinging look at American values, with hypocrisy rampant and greed triumphant. Writer Jerry Belson delineates his characters very carefully, so that we know whom to side with and whom to despise, and the nearly no-name cast portrays them brilliantly. Talented Joan Prather is the contestant we most identify with, decent, but slowly being corrupted as the urge to win overtakes her, and Michael Kidd is the semi-big-time choreographer who at first seems callous and unlikable but turns out to be merely seeing, and telling, it like it is. There's some too-easy comedy as we view the contestants' terrible talent competition entries, but at the end we've seen a remarkably thorough put-down of American values circa 1975. (Maybe it didn't get more attention because its utter honesty and accuracy about the American way of winning, a pet theme of the director's, made people uncomfortable.) The final scene, in the police car, is just a perfect wrap-up.
My fellow commenters have done a lovely job of summing up the
wonderfulness of this movie.
But I don't think enough has been said about Maria O'Brien.
She is the daughter of the late, great Edmond O'Brien, and she is off-the-hook funny in this movie.
I knew her "whackamolehthip" was laying it on thick, and I'm just a gringa with a good accent. And then she drops the accent when talking to the stage manager: "I need red and green gels for my entrance...."
"Applause, applause, applause...."
Maria O'Brien is brilliant.
She should be as famous as her father never was.
"Smile" is a perfect satire of our human penchant for joining clubs and
organizations. Set against the "Miss Teen California" Pageant, this film
parodies the pettiness, power plays, and self-importance of the contest's
At the time, I had just joined the Jaycees and I roared with laughter at all the "Jaycee types" I saw. Bruce Dern, the enthusiastic but dense Jaycee President "Big Bob Friedlander" sets the tone of the festivities. Barbara Feldon as chairwoman Brenda DiCarlo runs a taut ship, but is none too bright. In fact her husband, Andy, is literally driven to drink and runs away from the "exhausted rooster" ceremony rather than kiss a dead chicken. Big Bob's son, "Little Bob" and his friends get caught running a business of taking pictures of the girls dressing rooms through the windows.
In one of the less ethical aspects of the pageant, the Jaycees wait until their choreographer has taught the girls a dance number using a runway out into the audience. Suddenly the Jaycees take away the runway to accommodate "the golden circle" of $150 seats. As the choreographer tries the number without the runway, one of the girls falls. Putting the honest choreographer in a moral bind of money vs. safety, the Jaycees only put the runway back in by forcing him to deduct the cost of the "golden circle" tickets from his fee.
This film is a lot of laughs, starting at the very beginning, when one of the local pageant winners presents as her "talent" a demonstration of how to pack your suitcase. During the credits, as she runs to the plane to the pageant, her suitcase flies open, spilling everything all overt he place. The contestants steal the show. Some of the "talent" is singing, and, well, none of them have ever won a Grammy. Shortly after Maria ingratiates her way into Barbara Feldon's favor, her "talent" of flinging lighted batons ends in disaster as a few of the other contestants chuckle conspiratorially.
I didn't quit the Jaycees, but I certainly had many laughs at the meetings! In short, a great comedy! I recommend it highly and give it an "8."
SMILE hits home as it was filmed in the summer of 1974 when I graduated from high school, in Sonoma County, where Santa Rosa is. It is an accurate representation of Santa Rosa, 1974. I know many of the people in it, and my friends white 62 Chevy Impala is used. I can point out to many faces in the audience during the pageant, including an old high school history teacher. For me now it is a ghost town movie, as the current Santa Rosa has grown 3 times the size. The town you see in the film has been developed out of existence, and now seems like a dream. SMILE is based on the Junior Miss Pageant, which use to be held at The Veteran's Memorial, where the filmed pageant takes place. Mark Ritchie coached the paid actors well, as I could believe they were like local folks acting out as Santa Rosans. As a Cultural Anthropology study Smile is a gem. It is a time capsule to 1970's Santa Rosa. Another film to see is Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt. It too takes place in Santa Rosa around 1942, and has many points of location gone by the time Smile was filmed. Thorton Wilder wrote the Hitchcock screenplay for Santa Rosa, as he saw it as the best example of a American small town. The same can be said about Smile, but now Santa Rosa is an edge city.
When this film first came out thirty-four years ago (which seems impossible) the college crowd I hung with absolutely loved it. I was delighted to see it come up on one of the cable movie channels recently and after watching it again after lo these many years I am delighted to be able to report that its wittily insightful commentary has lost none of its edge or relevance. The flick really does deserve a place in whatever Hall of Fame is dedicated to commentary on American culture. It really is a comedy, but it has just enough raw edges to give it some genuine bite. The pacing is handled very well, and we are able to develop a genuine interest in many of the characters. The movie never descends to grossness or imbecility, although - given the subject matter, a regional beauty competition - the opportunities are plentiful. Bruce Dern's character is wonderfully drawn; it would be so easy to portray him as a dolt, but he is shown as a sincerely well-meant guy, which is what makes his subtly characterized thoughtfulness at the end of the movie so effective. Interesting to see Melanie Griffith - at the age of 18! - in one of her earliest credited performances. My favorite character is Michael Kidd, the choreographer; cynical, bitter, yet a true professional, he seems the only one in the flick that really cares about the girls, yet he has no illusions about himself. There are just so many wonderful moments in this film - thanks to a brilliant script and great direction - that it deserves a place as a minor classic of Americana.
"Smile" released in 1975, is director Michael Ritchie's commentary on the absurdity of beauty pageants. The movie takes place in Santa Rosa, as it is time for the "Junior Miss" California beauty pageant. Bruce Dern is spot-on as an RV salesman by day, and one of the judges of the contest by night. Interesting, he takes his part as a judge very seriously. Barabara Feldon plays a former Junior Miss, and she is at times hilarious as she is so intense and regimented about guiding the young contestants through the grueling competition. However, she has problems at home, including an alcoholic husband (Michael Kidd) who also seems to be on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Dern has a horny teen-age son (Eric Shea) who gets caught taking pictures through the windows of the girls changing their clothing, and then is sent to a psychiatrist as punishment! There is a bizarre initiation ceremony that Dern and Kidd attend, with the men dressed up in KKK attire. It has to be seen to be believed! Everything about this film reeks of the 1970's, from the famous "smile" pictures that were everywhere, to one of the contestants doing an imitation of the famous "Ernestine" the telephone operator, made famous by Lily Tomlin. For those of us who came of age in this decade (as I did) it was all so familiar and hilarious. The film is obviously a satire, poking fun at 1970's middle America. It was showing us who we were, warts and all. Look for a young Annette O'Toole and Melanie Griffith as two of the contestants, and all of the young ladies playing the beauty pageant contestants are quite good. The casting of this film is excellent. So check this out -- particularly if you remember this decade with the fondness, or maybe some groans too.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SMILE is a wicked satire. Using a teenage beauty pageant as a backdrop to poke fun at America's obsessions with the banal, director Michael Ritchie and writer Jerry Belson have come up with a classic. None of the girls are particularly attractive but that doesn't stop the Rotary club judges from leering at them while asking questions laced with double meanings. The girls aren't all that talented either...one of them shows the judges how to pack a suitcase! A very funny Bruce Dern stars as Big Bob Freelander, an unusually enthusiastic car salesman. He's VERY into the pageant, as is his peeping-tom son! Barbara Feldon is suitably uptight as the tough-as-nails pageant coordinator and Nicholas Pryor plays her suicidal husband. Feldon and Pryor have one of the film's best scenes as she mockingly tries to talk him out of killing himself. Michael Kidd is hysterical as a nasty choreographer and the contestants are played by a slew of almost starlets including Annette O'Toole, Melanie Griffith and Joan Prather.
long with his other 70s masterpieces, especially Prime Cut (72) and the recently Richard Linklatterized Bad News Bears (76), Michael Ritchie's Smile delivers a sweet/caustic backhand to American patriarchy in all its denim-clad grotesquery. The Man, here, is all embodiments of the Capitalist win-at-all-costs ethic. He comes in the form of pyretic little league coaches leveling universal ennui upon the children, good IL' boys who tidy up business affairs by grinding up the competition in the abattoir, their women kept it the stables, or, in the case of Smile, the Kindermensch of Santa Rosa's local business elite whose wealth and importance to the community are paid tribute with a gleefully calamitous Young American Miss competition. The tone and structure of Smile are reminiscent of Milos Forman's Polish films, especially Fireman's Ball. It shares that film's depiction of a public event as national microcosm, and its brilliant harmonic ability to sustain social critique with a full-out, warts- and-all sympathy for its all-too-human characters. The film's gonzo feminism will doubtlessly stick grinding in the throats of the Steinem set, and it certainly doesn't idealize, presenting its bevy of beauties as an estrogenic infestation, immediately plugging the theater's pipes with Kotex. Still, it is the strange phallic world of spectacle that encases these women that remains ultimately suspect. Witness the drunken, Masonic gathering where the men of the town don robes, overturn picnic tables and pucker up before the great unwashed posterior of a skinned chicken carcass. A must see American meltdown!
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