Directed by: Donald Petrie (1)
Cast: Sandra Bullock (2), Benjamin Bratt (3), Michael Caine (4), Candice Bergen (5), William Shatner (6), Ernie Hudson (7), Heather Burns (8), and Steve Monroe (9).
My favourite quote – “I’m in a dress, I have gel in my hair, I haven’t slept all night, I’ve starved, and I’m armed, don’t mess with me.”
The 63rd Miss Universe pageant is happening right about now as I write up this post. I haven’t been excited about the Miss Universe pageant for a very long time. My crazy work schedule over the past few years sapped up most of my energy so Miss Universe took a back seat in terms of importance. However, I am still very much a Miss Universe fan.
I was such a big fan that I once wrote a feature article on the topic of the Miss Universe pageant for my university assignment and used the Miss Universe content for a Layout To Publication class I took while doing my degree. I also used to collect photographs of past contestants and collect the pageant finals on tape. Yup! I’m a Miss Universe pageant buff. But no, I do not enjoy all pageants. Of the big four, Miss World, Miss Earth, Miss International, and Miss Universe, I only follow the latter. I think it’s because Miss Universe has been televised live in Singapore since I was a little girl.
Singapore was the host country for the 1987 pageant as well, and I was born in 1982. I was an impressionable young girl who grew up watching the Miss Universe Pageant. I wasn’t always a fan though. I was too young to remember, but according to my mother, I gave up on a rare opportunity to be a part of the Miss Universe pageant when Singapore was hosting the event.
The tradition has been lost and probably forgotten, but for the longest time, Miss Universe had ‘Little Sisters’ who played a role in the live show. Each Miss Universe contestant would be assigned a young girl, a ‘Little Sister’, from the host country who would walk the stage with the competing lady during the evening gown competition. And the ‘Little Sisters’ would always sing this song that I absolutely adore – You Are My Star.
When the Miss Universe pageant was held here in Singapore in 1987, 5 year old me was asked if she wanted to be a ‘Little Sister’. And as you already know, I said no.
So why is all this relevant? Well, because I am into the Miss Universe pageant. There I said it. But who cares? I think there’s no shame in admitting that I enjoy watching the Miss Universe pageant. Becoming a contestant is a whole different thing though.
Joining The Beauty Queen Club
Gracie: Uh! What could possibly motivate anybody to enter a beauty pageant is beyond me.
Eric: Scholarship money. A chance to see the world. Broaden your horizons. Meet new people.
Gracie: So join the Marines. It’s like feminism never even happened, you know. I think any woman to do this is catering to some misogynistic neanderthal mentality.
Pageants have had a bad rep for the longest time. Feminists say it is demeaning and some like Sandra Bullock’s character Gracie cannot fathom why a young intelligent woman would want to “parade around in a swimsuit like some airhead bimbo”.
Eric: What do you say Hart?
Gracie: No freakin way.
Eric: Come on Sparky. Why not?
Gracie: Cos I’m not going parade around in a swimsuit like some airhead bimbo that goes by the name of, what, Gracie Lou Freebush, and all she wants is world peace.
Eric: It wouldn’t be like that. Come on. You’re an important member of the undercover team.
Gracie: Yeah right, in a thong.
Eric: Hey! In a tasteful one-piece. Come on look, you do a few butt shaping exercises. You tighten this up, you can pull this off.
Often times, pageants would have to deal with protestors who feel that the women who compete are being exploited. The film Miss Congeniality takes it to the extreme but a movie needs it’s drama, climax, and resolution to work.
Toby/Frank: Mom, this isn’t going to work.
Kathy: Well honey of course it’s going to work.
Toby/Frank: But since the Feds caught the Citizen we’ve got no one to pin it on.
Kathy: Okay that was bad luck. But what about all these other letters from terrorists groups threatening us. Women’s Liberation Front, Islamic Jihad, they’re not so nuts about the swimsuit competition.
But I think that pageants are not easy and are actually really hard work. I’ll discuss the work that goes, or should go into preparing to compete in a beauty pageant later in this post. First, let’s look at why somebody might want to join a beauty pageant.
Stan: Kathy, these people want to put one of these agents in the pageant.
Kathy: They want her to win?
Eric: No madam. Er, but we will need your help with the judging, to make sure that one of our agents gets into the top 5. That way they have access to the all the areas of the stage at all times.
Kathy: Absolutely not.
Gracie: Miss Morningside we understand how important this beauty pageant is to you and so…
Kathy: Excuse me this is not a beauty pageant. This is a scholarship program. And it has been ever since my reign. And I full intend on maintaining that credo.
Eric: Absolutely Miss Morningside. We’re here to protect the girls, er women, er scholarship ladies. Kathy: There’s nothing more important to me than the safety of my girls. I’d rather cancel the pageant than have one of them blown up.
Stan: Especially without their knowledge.
Eric: Well we went to the network to have them cancel the pageant but they refused. We can’t force them.
Stan: I’m confused. What state is she going to be from? All the winners have already been chosen.
Eric: Don’t worry about that Mr Fields. We recently discovered some information about the winner from New Jersey.
Gracie: And a performance in a little film called Arma-get-it-on.
Stan: Was that her?
Gracie: Oh yeah. So she was probably going to drop out very soon. You know what I’m sayin’?
“Excuse me this is not a beauty pageant. This is a scholarship program.” While Miss Universe ain’t no scholarship program, in recent years, it’s not just about the gowns and swimsuits. The Miss Universe Organisation supports AIDS Awareness while the Miss USA pageant supports Breast and Ovarian Cancer Awareness and a few other charitable organisations.
Essentially, the winner is contracted to “perform her duties.” And her duties are not only to look pretty and be the face of the Miss Universe Organisation, she also has to be a global ambassador and promote AIDS Awareness as well as other of the organisation’s charities.
The winner gets to live a globe trotting lifestyle, live in Trump Towers in New York City, mingle with celebrities, politicians, and people around the world who are less fortunate than she. The winner of the Miss Universe pageant becomes a ambassador of sorts for her country and for the Miss Universe Organisation.
Only Blondes Need Apply?
Victor: Look how she walks. She’s floating. Lightly ascending from cloud to cloud, towards heaven.
Gracie: And once she gets there and he takes one look at that fake rack he’s gonna send her right back. Look, she’s going to cry again, “Oh, if I only have a brain.”
Victor: I am somewhat less than amused.
Neither am I. Shame on your Gracie Hart. You’re making a huge assumption.
Singapore’s representatives have yet to win the Miss Universe title. And many Singaporeans are very critical of contestants we’ve produced over the years. They’re either not pretty enough, or not smart enough. Some claim that only the bimbo airheads clamouring from fame would join the competition. They said that the intelligent ones are smart enough to stay away from beauty pageants.
I say that the Miss Singapore Universe Organisation is promoting the pageant incorrectly. Repeat after me “it is not a beauty pageant,” it is a chance for intelligent witty ladies to show the world what Singaporean woman are capable of.
Miss Universe gets to interact with Prime Ministers and Royalty as well. And when they do, they don’t just represent the Miss Universe Organisation, they represent their home country even after the plain national sash is exchanged for the sparkly one that says “Miss Universe”.
Becoming Miss Universe also means that one lucky lady gets the opportunity to build her networks, learn about new cultures, and make new friends around the world.
Eric: All right, here’s your new IDs. For pageant identity.
Gracie: Gracie Lou Freebush?
Eric: Yeah, remember, you like that name.
Gracie: Yeah, well, my IQ just dropped ten points.
If you look at past winners, the “blonde and stupid” factor can easily be squashed. Oxana Fedorova, Miss Universe 2002, graduated from the police academy with honours prior to winning the title. After Irene Sáez, Miss Universe 1981, passed on the crown to her successor, she went on to become the mayor of Chacao (a municipality of Caracas), Governor of the state of Nueva Esparta, and even was a former presidential candidate. Many of the past winners were not just models, but also degree holders.
Granted the film stereotypes beauty queens, at the international level, most of the ladies who make it to the top 5 are truly quite remarkable young women.
Victor: Hands folded. Ankles crossed. Neck up. And remember, smile. Smile-ers wear a crown, losers wear a frown.
Gracie: I would so like to hurt you right now.
Victor: As long as you smile. Now, why is New Jersey called ‘Garden State’?
Gracie: Because it’s too hard to fit oil and petrol chemical refinery state on a license plate?
Victor: You know I don’t appreciate your selfishness and immaturity when I’m working as hard as I am.
Gracie: You know, what is the difference? Big deal. It’s fixed. I’m in the top 5. Congratulations to me.
Victor: But is that enough? Have you no pride in yourself? In your presentation?
Gracie: You know what? I am an FBI agent alright. I’m not a performing monkey in heels.
Victor: You’re also a person. And an incomplete one at that. In place of friends and relationships, you have sarcasm and a gun.
Instead of viewing beauty queens as just “a performing monkey in heels,” I think we must acknowledge that there are women who participate in pageants that do so because they truly want to make a difference in the world and improve themselves.
Tips On Becoming A Queen
Victor: Are you hungry?
Victor: It is always ‘yes’ never ‘yeah’. Sit down. Miss United States is always well spoken and polite. Do you understand?
And improving themselves is definitely something that a contestant must do to make it into the international competition. The role of Victor is not a fictitious one. Pageant coaches do exist. In fact, in some countries like Venezuela and USA, it’s a booming industry.
Osmel Sousa is a Cuban-born Venezuelan beauty pageant gurú and the president of the Miss Venezuela Organization. He’s earned the title of ” Czar of Beauty” for his role in producing Venezuela’s large number of beauty queens. Venezuela has six Miss World winners, six Miss International crowns, and two wins in Miss Earth.
Former Miss Universe winner Lupita Jones also prepares ladies from her country before they face off at the international competition, sharing her valuable experience in the hopes of repeating her success. And succeed she did with Ximena Navarrete, Miss Universe 2010.
Another successful beauty expert is Inès Ligron. She became Japan’s Miss Universe national-director in 1997 and produced 5 runner-ups during her 10 years with Miss Universe. She also produced a winner in 2007 when Japanese ballet dancer Riyo Mori won the crown.
Victor: Oh my God. I haven’t seen a walk like that since Jurassic Park.
Gracie: Yeah well, you know what, it’s been working really well for me for the past 30 years alright.
Victor: Well, glide. Now glide.
Victor: Look. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Look. Don’t look down. Look up. Your chin should always be parallel to the floor. Now glide. Glide. It’s not the bloody Ice Capades.
Victor: No, no. Don’t pick up your feet up. Don’t pick up your feet up. Why are you picking your feet up?
Gracie: Because I’m preparing to run away.
Victor: No wait, wait, wait, wait. Watch me, watch me. Glide, glide.
(Victor demonstrates for Gracie)
Victor: See glide. It’s all in the buttocks. Don’t I look pretty.
Gracie: Takes a very secure man to walk like that. Argh.
Victor: Roll your hips, roll your hips. Head up, head up. Keep gliding.
(A taxi nearly runs Gracie over)
Gracie: I’m gliding here. Taxi driver: Hey! What are you? Blind?
Needless to say, preparing to become a potential Miss Universe is hard work. In fact, it is not unheard of that some Venezuelan delegates turn to plastic surgery for some help.
Eric: Okay Mr Vic, got everything you asked for. Where do we start?
Victor: Teeth, hair, manicure, pedicure.
Gracie: Which one first? Hey guys. My teeth, what are you gonna do to my teeth.
Victor: Hopefully, remove the beer stains and steak residue.
(Many beauty therapists are fussing over Gracie)
Gracie: Can I get some Novocain.
Dentist: It’s only a cleaning.
Gracie: No I’m talking about Sweeny Todd back here. What are you doing?
Victor: Your hair should make a statement.
Gracie: As long as it doesn’t say “Thank you very much for the country music award.” Ow!
Hair dresser: Yeah, you’ll be lucky if I can get this untangled.
Victor: No mercy.
Hair dresser: Can I borrow that drill?
PA announcer: Attention. Attention. All hair removal units. Wax, electrolysis, laser to commence at 23 00 hours.
(Gracie is getting a wax and screams in pain. Eric wonders about the scream.)
Victor: Bikini wax.
Eric: (With a grimace) Oooo…
Since it is a beauty pageant, beauty is a of course a key component. These ladies have to keep fit and stay slim and healthy. They have to watch what they eat and drink.
Miss California: Are you crazy? You can’t have pizza and beer?
Miss Hawaii: Do you know how many calories you’re talking about?
Gracie: Uh… it’s light beer, and she’s gonna throw it up anyway. Come on. No? No takers? No? Alright. Well, you know, I’ll just sit here. You guys go back on your little bicycles and I’ll sit here with my very large cheesy pizza. Oh… look at all that cheese.
Miss California: Cheryl, don’t. I mean at least scrap off the toppings.
Gracie: First step pizza, second step flaming batons.
Brook Mahealani Lee, Miss Universe 1997, was asked this during the final question portion – “If there were no rules in your life for one day, and you could be outrageous, what would you do?”
And her answer, which I believe won her that pretty sparkly crown is – “I would eat everything in the world. You do not understand. I would eat everything twice.”
Yup, there are sacrifices one must make to enjoy all that Miss Universe gets to experience. Something I am struggling to deal with. You see, like Brook Lee, “I would eat everything in the world. You do not understand. I would eat everything twice.”
Victor: The interview is the single most important part of the pageant. It accounts for 30% of your total score.
Gracie: Yeah? What’s the other 70%? Cleavage?
In the past, the last interview question was the same for all 3 finalists. I liked the competition more when that was the case. Sure, some people might say its a little boring to hear the same question asked 3 times! But I think asking the finalist the same question makes it more obvious as to which finalist gave the best answer.
Miss Hawaii: I would have to say, world peace.
Miss Texas: Definitely, world peace.
Miss California: That’s easy. World peace.
Miss New York: World peace.
Stan: What is the one most important thing our society needs?
Gracie: That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.
(Crowd is silent)
Gracie: And world peace!
(crowd cheers ecstatically)
Stan: Thank you, Gracie Lou.
Gracie: And thank you, Stan.
Here are some of my favourite past Miss Universe winners and you can find out more about them at Global Beauties.
Miss Congeniality: The ‘Real’ Gracie Hart
Bringing it back to the film, let’s talk about the title, Miss Congeniality. Basically, although it’s a competition, it’s not all bitchy beauty queens and a dog eat dog world when it comes to beauty pageants.
Miss Hawaii: What no insults today?
Miss New York: You’re a Don Ho.
Cheryl: Has anyone seen Gracie? I can’t believe she missed dress rehearsal.
Miss California: Well maybe she couldn’t take the pressure. She ate 4 slices last night.
Miss Texas: We all saw her glass performance, she is not making the top 10.
(Gracie rushes to the mirror)
Gracie: Sorry sorry. I overslept my beauty sleep.
Cheryl: Gracie Lou do you need help?
Gracie: No I’m fine. God, okay. Which one of these is lipstick?
Miss New York: Oooo…
Miss Texas: Now first thing we need to deal with is hair.
(All the girls help Gracie get ready)
I have heard stories about some contestants displaying unsavory behaviour towards their fellow contestants. But it pays to be nice. Cos one lady, without fail, gets voted Miss Popular, I mean, Miss Congeniality.
And why was Gracie Hart awarded the title of Miss Congeniality? Because she is a great and softhearted person hiding behind “sarcasm and a gun.”
Gracie: Look, I mean, Cheryl, I mean, I think you have as good a chance as anybody to win. I mean, you obviously believe enough in yourself to get this far right?
Cheryl: Wow. You’re so nice, and so smart, and so sensitive. You’re definitely gonna win.
Some people put up a wall around themselves. I used to do it. It takes time for them to open up.
Gracie: Just thought I’d let you know I was quitting alright. Take care.
Eric: Hold on a second. Wait a minute. What do you mean ‘You’re quittin?”
Gracie: I mean you got the wrong girl. Alright.
Eric: Hart I do not need this right now.
Gracie: I know you don’t need this right now. That’s what I’m saying alright. I’m totally screwing up in there. I don’t even feel like a real agent anymore. And then Vic says this thing that’s like so… You know what? I don’t care what he said. I don’t care. You know, because I am the job. I am the job and I’m okay with that. I mean, you’re the job right?
Eric: Yeah I’m the job. We’re all the job.
Gracie: Right, you’re the job, so then what’s wrong with me? I date. I go on dates. I know everyone thinks that I haven’t had a date in 10 years. Is that what you think?
Eric: I think you date.
Gracie: Damn right I do. But you know, both times it was totally screwed up. You know what? I don’t even care. I don’t care. All I want to do is my job. And for the last 3 days I feel like I’m completely lost.
Eric: Hart, listen to me. I’ve been waiting five years to run my own op. You think I’d blow it on the wrong girl?
Gracie: No no no, I know the only reason you picked me was because I was the only one who looked half decent in a bikini and wasn’t on maternity leave.
Eric: No, that’s why they let me pick you. You wanna know why I picked you?
Gracie: Lost a bet?
Eric: Because you’re smart. Because you don’t take any crap from people. You’re funny. You’re easy to talk to when you’re not armed. Give yourself a break. Cut Vic and the other pageant ladies some slack cause if they ever get a chance to see what I see then… they’re gonna love you.
But once they open up and accept you into their hearts, they are fiercely loyal. Just like Gracie Hart is.
Kathy: New Jersey, as you may know, there are many who consider the Miss United States Pageant to be outdated and anti-feminist. What would you say to them?
Victor: Oh my God.
Gracie: Well, I would have to say… I used to be one of them. And then I came here and I realised that these women are smart, terrific people who are just trying to make a difference in the world. And we’ve become really good friends. I mean, I know we all secretly hope the other one will trip and fall on her face, but… wait a minute, I’ve already done that! And for me this experience has been one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences of my life.
Victor: My God, I did it!
Gracie: And if anyone, anyone, tries to hurt one of my new friends, I would take them out. I would make them suffer so much that they’d wish they were never born. And if they ran, I would hunt them down. Thank you, Kathy.
Victor: A brief shining moment, and then that mouth!
Well, It Is A Comedy After All
You can tell right. I’m mad about Miss Universe. But I don’t just love Miss Congeniality because it’s set within a beauty pageant. I love it cos it’s well written and tickles me to no end.
Eric: This earpiece lets you hear anybody on our frequencies, and they can hear you.
Gracie: Don’t need that, with all this foil in my hair I’m getting HBO.
That and the fact that Sandra Bullock is wonderful at physical comedy. She nails the comedic moments perfectly and I cannot imagine anyone taking on the role of Gracie Hart. I like that her character is made out to be more intelligent that most of her fellow male FBI agents. Which juxtaposes the topic and blatant implications that beauty pageants are only for ditzy women. If a smart woman can see beauty pageants in a different light, so can you.
(1) Donald Petrie has also directed films like Mystic Pizza (1988), Richie Rich (1994), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Just My Luck (2006) and My Life In Ruins (2009).
(2) Sandra Bullock has also acted in films like Demolition Man (1993), Speed (1994), While You Were Sleeping (1995), A Time To Kill (1996), In Love And War (1996), Speed 2: Cruise Conrol (1997), Hope Floats (1998), Practical Magic (1998), Forces Of Nature (1999), 28 Days (2000), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002), Two Weeks Notice (2002), Crash (2004), Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005), The Lake House (2006), Premonition (2007), The Proposal (2009), All About Steve (2009), The Blind Side (2009),Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011), The Heat (2013), and Gravity (2013). She also voiced the character of Miriam in The Prince Of Egypt (1998) and Scarlet Overkill in Minions (2015).
(3) Benjamin Bratt has also acted in films like Demolition Man (1993), Clear and Present Danger (1994), The Next Best Thing (2000), Red Planet (2000), Traffic (2000), Catwoman (2004), and The Dressmaker (2015). He also voiced the character of Manny in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009) and Cloudy with a Chance Of Meatballs 2 (2013), Eduardo Perez/El Macho in Despicable Me 2 (2013), and Pedrito the Skunk in Alvin And The Chipmunks 4 (2015). He is known for playing Detective Rey Curtis in Law & Order (1995-1999) and Dr. Jake Reilly in Private Practice (2011-2013). He’s also appeared in other television series like Frasier and Modern Family.
(4) Michael Caine has also acted in films like Zulu (1964), Alfie (1966), The Italian Job (1969), Get Carter (1971), Sleuth (1972), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Little Voice (1998), Quills (2000), Get Carter (2000), Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002), The Quiet American (2002), Secondhand Lions (2003), Batman Begins (2005), Bewitched (2005), The Prestige (2006), Sleuth (2007), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Now You See Me (2013), Interstellar (2014), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), The Last Witch Hunter (2015), The Early Years (2015), and Now You See Me: The Second Act (2016). He also voiced the character of Lord Redbrick in Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) and Finn McMissile 1 in Cars 2 (2011).
(5) Candice Bergen has also acted in films like Gandhi (1982), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), View From The Top (2003), The In-Laws (2003), Sex And the City (2008), The Women (2008), Bride Wars (2009), and The Romantics (2010). She is known for playing the title character of the television series Murphy Brown (1988-1999) and Shirley Schmidt in Boston Legal (2005-2008) and has appeared in other series like Seinfeld, Sex And The City, Law & Order, Will & Grace, House, and The Michael J Fox Show.
(6) William Shatner has also acted in films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Star Trek Generations (1994), DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (2004), and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005). He also voiced the character of Ozzie in Over The Hedge (2006) and General Shanker in Escape From Planet Earth (2013). He’s famous for playing James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) and has appeared in other series like Hawaii Five-O, SeaQuest DSV, Hercules, 3rd Rock From The Sun, The Practice, Boston Legal, Psych, and Rookie Blue.
(7) Ernie Hudson has also acted in films like Ghostbusters (1984), Ghostbusters II (1989), Airheads (1994), The Basketball Diaries (1995), Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005), Dragonball Evolution (2009) and Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball (2010). He has also acted in television series like Bones, Psych, Las Vegas, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Private Practice, Heroes, Law & Order, Criminal Minds, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, Last Resort, and Scorpion.
(8) Heather Burns has also acted in films like You’ve Got Mail (1998), Two Weeks Notice (2002), Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005), Bewitched (2005), and What’s Your Number? (2011). She’s also acted in television series like Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Elementary.
(9) Steve Monroe has also acted in films like The Nutty Professor (1996), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Cast Away (2000), and 8 Mile (2002). He’s also acted in television series like 7th Heaven, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Criminal Minds, Charmed, Grey’s Anatomy, JAG, NYPD Blue, Veronica Mars, and The Following.
Miss Congeniality makes me laugh. It reminds me of why I love the Miss Universe pageant. Yes, it not just about the pretty evening gowns. I love the performance of Sandra Bullock in the film and floored by the “transformation” both in the looks department as well as her mindset and growth as a person. The film had a great cast. Candice Bergen was a very creepy and convincing crazed beauty queen. And I loved that William Shatner was unafraid to come across as a himbo and silly. Michael Caine also impressed me with his performance as Victor Mellings. Yes, he is a talented actor, but I’ve never seen him in a role quite like this. I’ve watched this film so many times, and yet, I never get tired of it. In my books, it’s definitely a good film. What do you think? (4.5 of 5)
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