Sandra Bullock the producer found a pretty good vehicle for Sandra Bullock the actress in this variation on the classic Hollywood “makeover movie.” As in predecessors from “Cinderella” to “My Fair Lady” to “Pretty Woman,” this is at its core the story of an ugly duckling who finds empowerment and a boyfriend after a few pointers on good grooming and accessorizing. But Bullock’s performance and a couple of new twists on the classic formula make it a pleasant and entertaining effort.
Bullock plays the ironically named “Grace,” an FBI agent who lives for her job. She gets in trouble for not following orders and is considered so expendable that she is the one sent to Starbucks for coffee. She is more at home subduing a suspect than having a conversation with an attractive man, and spends more time with her gun than she does with a hairbrush or make-up mirror. When the FBI needs an agent to go undercover as a contestant in a beauty pageant (sorry, I mean “scholarship pageant”), she is the only one who might be able to pass. So the Bureau hires Victor Melling (Michael Caine), a consultant, to oversee her transformation and her transition into the world of big hair and baton twirling.
There are few new jokes to be made about beauty pageants, but Bullock delivers the lines as though no one had ever said them before. The plot is so flimsy that it would disappear if I tried to explain it, but Bullock plays it as though it is really happening. She gets some fine support from Caine and from Candice Bergen and William Shatner as the pageant’s director and master of ceremonies, both far more three-dimensional than Benjamin Bratt as Grace’s FBI colleague/Prince Charming.
Parents should know that the movie has some strong language, a bulimia joke, some sexual references (“No wonder you’re still a virgin!”), including a lesbian contestant, and there are various shoot-outs and scenes of peril (no serious damage). Grace makes a joke about praying that some people might find insensitive.
Families who see this movie should talk about why “in place of friends and relationships, [Grace] has grumpiness and a gun.” What does the incident from Grace’s childhood tell us about the way she turned out? Was she afraid to get close to anyone? Grace gets in trouble for not following orders in the beginning, and it turns out that she was wrong. But later on, she refuses to follow orders again, and urges her colleague to “throw out the rulebook.” What rules did she follow? How did she decide? What did she learn from the other girls? What did the villain hope to accomplish? How?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Some Like it Hot” and “Smile.”