Get ready for a hilarious (Variety) look at one of America's most beloved institutions: the beauty pageant! OscarĀ(r) nominees* Bruce Dern and Melanie Griffith wind their way throughpageant hell in this twisted expositio... more »n of Americana that deserves a high place among successful film spoofs (Cue)! The bleached-blonde town of Santa Rosa, California, is very excited aboutits annual Young American Miss Pageant. Chief judge Big Bob Freelander (Dern) promises his town a good contest. But the battling bombshells are growing ruthless in their quest for the crown! Can Big Bob make sure that his bevy of Beauties remains civil so that audiences don't discover what really lies behind those smiles?! *Dern: Supporting Actor, Coming Home (1978); Griffith: Actress, Working Girl (1988)« less
"One of the underrated films from the golden age of American filmmaking, this wonderful story holds up very well some 30 years later. It's far more than just a satiric look at teen beauty pageants & the culture that surrounds them (although it skewers them sharply & perceptively) -- it's also a fiercely revealing look at the illusions of the American Dream. The writing is pointed & intelligent, and the cast is superb!Let me call special attention to Bruce Dern's portrayal of Big Bob Freelander. It would have been all too easy to make Big Bob nothing more than a walking joke & an object of condescending mockery. But the man has more depth than that, even though he himself refuses to see it. Big Bob genuinely believes in the cliches & positive aphorisms he spouts, and does his best to live by them. Yet despite his own desire to believe that the life he has chosen does have value & meaning, the empty truth of it is beginning to force itself upon him. His best friend is already drinking too much & cracking up because he can't stomach their world any longer; Big Bob sees it all falling apart & does his best to hold it together, even as it slips through his fingers.Note, for example, Joan Prather's interview by the judges. As one of the more honest contestants, she's thrown by some of the questions, which obviously demand pre-packaged & "wholesome" answers. She doesn't quite know how to "play the game." Big Bob jumps right in to help her out, both out of genuine compassion for her & out of his desire to preserve the illusions of his own life. As Big Bob's crumbling friend Andy notes, Big Bob is the ultimate Young American Miss himself ... and Big Bob doesn't deny it. He desperately wants his world to be just that clearly defined & ideal & perfect.Towards the end, there's a poignant & telling scene. Three Marines serve as flag-bearers for the pageant, and Big Bob goes over to make small talk with them, having served in their same division years ago. He makes mention of seeing combat in Korea, only to be ignored as they compare notes on the breasts of the various contestants. One look at Big Bob's sad & haunted face tells you everything about what he's lost & still searching to find.Yes, it's a very funny film. The "talent" segments are howlingly bad & pathetic, all the more so with their undercurrent of melancholy. The plastic patriotism & hollow boosterism is laughingly tacky. But there's much more going on in this film, which is still quite relevent. Highly recommended!"
The best film you've never heard of
James D. Leverton | San Marcos, CA USA | 09/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Smile" (1975) is a comedic gem and easily one of the best unknown films of the '70's. An incisive satire set at a California beauty pageant, director Michael Ritchie's film offers a chance to see Bruce Dern in a rare "straight" role, Barbara Feldon playing a character worlds away from her famous Agent 99 from "Get Smart" and legendary choreographer Michael Kidd in a hilarious supporting turn as (what else?) a lecherous, alcoholic beauty pageant choreographer. Add Melanie Griffith, Annette O'Toole and Joan Prather in early roles and a hysterical supporting turn by Maria O'Brien (Edmund's daughter) and you have a top cast making the most out of Jerry Belson's incisive script.
Dern plays "Big Bob" Freelander, the head judge at the California State Young American Miss Pageant and Feldon is the pageant director whose motto to the contestants is to "keep smiling." Of course, this being a satire, Ritchie and Belson mercilessly lampoon everything in their path, making Feldon an unhappily married harridan whose husband hates her, Dern a father who is concerned that his horny son "Little Bob" (Eric Shea) and his hornier friends are obsessed with seeing the contestants naked (just like his father and the other men involved) and the contestants are, for the most part, back-stabbing primadonnas who will resort to anything to win. And then there's Kidd's choreographer, who shows up late and drunk and spends most of his time bedding the contestants, when he's not insulting their rather pathetic talents. (One of my favorite bits: Miss Imperial Valley's "talent" is packing a suitcase.) But the highlight of the film is O'Brien as the sole Mexican-American contestant, who spends the entire time trying to bribe the judges with "a favorite dish from my home country, guacomole dip." She is a riot and, along with Kidd, the primary reasons to see the film.
One of the great things about "Smile" is the ending. It is absolutely impossible to guess who will win the final competition. And the reactions of everyone involved are true and real, thanks to Belson's terrific and unpredictable script and Ritchie's top-notch directing. In fact, Ritchie followed this film with a cinematic home run, 1976's "The Bad News Bears." These two films alone sealed the late director's reputation as a master satirist.
In all, "Smile" may very well be the best film you've never heard of. And let's be thankful that MGM/UA released the DVD in 1:85:1 widescreen, which they don't always do. The extras are thin, but the film more than makes up for it, especially at such a low price. In all, this one is a real winner. ***** (out of *****)"
Why was this classic passed over at awards time?
Edward Farley | Las Vegas, NEVADA | 03/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the great American films of the 1970s, a time when US writers and directors were prepared to raise questions through metaphor, about 'the state of the nation' (in 1974). At Academy Awards time 'Smile' should have been nominated for direction, screenplay, and acting, and the fact that it was ignored is revealing....Unlike the Hollywood pap of today, there are no CGI effects, easy 'uplifting' messages, 'inspirational' storylines with banal music to stop you thinking ('Seabiscuit' is a an example of the 'feelgood' type of movie to which I am referring). If you like this kind of movie, then the ambiguities of 'Smile' are probably not for you ! For there are no simple messages here....but if you cherish ambiguity, irony, and satire you will love this movie as much as I do. Although it has its darker side, it is no inflated 'Nashville' of 'American Beauty' either, and unlike these movies 'Smile' is generally light and entertaining. 'Smile' is scripted and directed with great precision, skilfully blending documentary elements of a real life beauty pageant and the folks of Santa Rosa, CA who paid to attend as members of the audience, with the fictional narrative. Each character, even minor ones, takes on a symbolic role: the janitor, the MD, the choreographer (the wonderful Michael Kidd), the hospital psychiatrist, the contest MC...and Bruce Dern who is outstanding in this movie.
A satire yes, but by the end, a satire with heart. I have seen this film many times, and am always noticing new details that I missed before, especially in the background action. 'Smile'
is also devilishly entertaining, and, all the contestants are great, especially Joan Prather as 'Miss Antelope Valley', and Melanie Griffith has never been better.....PLEASE MGM, can I buy this soon on DVD ? (my VHS is worn out !)"
Short skirts and satire for the last beauty pageant
Edward Farley | 09/15/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I found the story a bit ponderous, but there were two things I thought worked really well in this movie.First, though there was a lot of thinly veiled contempt for beauty pageants, I thought the girls themselves were treated sympathetically. I really liked the scenes of Annette O'Toole and her roommate getting dressed and discussing various win strategies. These were teenagers, some innocent, some mercenary, going after a goal handed to them by adults. It made the adults look like the ones who should have known better.Second, I've always loved those '70s minidresses. The mini's revival this decade has never reached the, well, "heights" of minis in the mid-70s. It's hilarious to see girls in those tiny dresses wearing dainty white gloves. Although the short hems would seem to demand numerous peeks at girls' underwear, the film manages to show some restraint. One peculiar touch is the way that each day's events begins with a close-up of the embroidered day-of-the-week on Annette O'Toole's panties.This was one of Melanie Griffith's first movies, but don't get it for that reason -- it's more of an Annette O'Toole movie."
A Forgotten Gem
Edward Farley | 07/05/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Smile" is one of the most underappreciated comic satires of modern films. This dead-on look at the emptiness of small town existence is priceless. With biting humor and WONDERFUL performances by Bruce Dern, Barbara Feldon, Michael Kidd, Nicholas Pryor, Joan Prather and Annette O'Toole, "Smile" is a glowing example of brilliant filmmaking. With sharp, insightful direction by Michael Ritchie, "Smile" offers a hilarious look into the lives of townfolks trying to fill an empty void with the staging of a small town beauty pageant. The scene with O'Toole during the "talent" portion of the pageant is classic!"