Sometimes, in times of pressure, we all need a little comfort food; a tv dinner with a reduced-price yellow sticker, a slouch on the couch with a big bar of chocolate. Donald Petrie’s 2000 comedy was never expected to be one for the ages; the story of a tough cop (Sandra Bullock) who goes undercover at a Texas beauty pageant, Miss Congeniality doesn’t aim for the stars. But it does deliver, with a silly but effective story, some neat support from Michael Caine in particular, and a goal to be a fluffy, undemanding two hours of entertainment.
Petrie opens with a slew of clichés; we first see Gracie Hart (Bullock) in a stake-out, then buying a round of coffee for her pals on the force; we don’t see her in a donut shop, but it’s clear we’re not re-inventing the wheel here in terms of police-work. The product placements for Starbucks is painfully obvious as motivation for these scenes, but things take a lift when Gracie is co-opted to track down a mad bomber who is threatening a televised beauty pageant. Organisers (Candice Bergen and William Shatner, somehow) are faced with bringing Gracie into line with the other contestants, and bring in the flamboyant Victor Melling (Caine) to urgently sort out her looks and deportment as time runs out…
Although Melling is described as a fruit-cake and wears a bright pink suit, he’s camp rather than gay, and Caine resists stereotyped humour and warms to his task as a genial Henry Higgins type. Bullock tries out a prototype of her cop from The Heat, and manages the character comedy and pratfalls well. And while hardly a central text of women’s liberation, it’s kind of fun the way Gracie learns to respect the other contestants as people, and put aside her own prejudice of what a woman could and should be.
This is a functional blockbuster to be sure, utterly ridiculous in conception, but riddled with small, tiny, yet amusing moments. Not destined for the Smithsonian, it’s the kind of film that works when you can’t face watching a film; slight, gentle, but well enough honed to engage on a long lockdown winter’s night.