Beautiful is not a good way to describe this movie. It is not a great way for veteran actress Sally Field (Where the Heart Is, An Eye for An Eye) to make her motion picture directorial debut. It is not funny enough to be a comedy. It is not witty or sharp enough to be a satire. It is bad enough to be a big stinker. The story is all over the place, and none of the characters are worth watching, except for in terms of how great they look. Yes, this is shallow, but it is deeper and more profound than anything in the movie is. The prologue shows young Mona Hibbard, who loves beauty pageants. She tries her hardest, but never wins. Her mother and stepfather have no desire to help her. Her only friend is the nerdy Ruby. She's nerdy because she wears funny glasses. So Mona enters the pageants and Ruby makes the dresses. Apparently, Mona is ambitious because she is smart enough to start a small delivery business to finance her pageant dues.

Fast-forward to the present, where Mona (Minnie Driver, Return to Me, Princess Mononoke) and Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams, Big Daddy, Mallrats) are still friends. Mona is still following her inane dream to win a beauty pageant, and Ruby is still helping. In the meantime, Mona had a daughter, Vanessa (Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Bicentennial Man, The Insider). Mona wins the title of Miss Illinois, and is now on her way to the national Miss American Miss pageant. The rules require that the winner must not be a mother, so Vanessa and everyone else believe that Ruby is her mother.

Dumb enough yet? A convenient plot twist renders Ruby in jail, and now Mona needs help. She decides to bring Ruby along to Long Beach, California to compete in the pageant. On the way, reporter Joyce Perkins (Leslie Stefanson, The General's Daughter, As Good As It Gets) is trying to expose Mona for the fraud she is. In Long Beach, Mona and Vanessa must learn to deal with each other. The first problem is that there is no character anybody wants to root for. Mona is shallow, selfish, vapid, conceited, and basically a bitch. Who cares if she wins? She needs to get out of her fantasy world and into the real one. Why is Ruby her friend? Ruby is sweet and infinitely patient, but it comes to a point where it gets a little ridiculous. Eisenberg is the ubiquitous little cute girl in the Pepsi commercials. Well, the first time it was cute. With each additional commercial, the annoyance grows. Here, her character does show a surprising amount of maturity, but she is also a brat. All attempts for cuteness fall flat.

Jon Bernstein's script is a mess. It veers back and forth between genres, never deciding what it wants to be. There are one or two laughs, in this supposed comedy, everything else is merely trying. As a beauty contestant, Mona's choice in clothes is atrocious. This may be funny in a satire, but here it is confusing. Even as an adult, she still dresses like a freak. The Miss American Miss (like it was realistic that the Miss America Pageant would let this movie use their name) is also bizarre. The talents in talent show are anything but. It is also blatantly obvious where the movie is going. Beautiful moves along at a boring pace before becoming increasingly nauseating. At some point in time, Mona must deal with the fact that she is still a child and that Vanessa needs a mother. The way that Field does this is inane and completely unrealistic, even within the terms of the movie. Mona mentions that beauty pageants actually empower women. This is probably what drew people like Field and Driver to the film. Alas...

Haro Rates It: Really Bad.
1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated PG-13 for thematic elements.

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