on September 29, 2000 by Kevin Courrier
There's plenty of movie corn being husked in Sally Field's debut directorial effort, "Beautiful," but it's certainly no Thanksgiving. There's so much fake virtue and bogus redemption peddled in the name of common folk that "Beautiful" is like watching Norma Rae Goes to the Pageant.

Mona Hibbard (Minnie Driver) is a small-town working-class girl from Illinois who has her heart set on being crowned Miss American Miss. And she's determined to do it, no matter how self-centred and obnoxious she has to be. Coming from an abusive family, Mona finds her only supporters in amiable pal Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams) and Ruby's outspoken daughter, Vanessa (Hallie Kate Eisenberg, strongly resembling a mini Minnie). But when Ruby is incarcerated for a crime she didn't commit, Mona has to balance taking care of Vanessa with fulfilling her dreams of wearing that silver crown.

"Beautiful" is a compendium of problems compounded by the fact that Minnie Driver does not have the kind of beauty that wins contests. And we know that the only reason she's so narcissistic is that later circumstances will redeem her. This is why we have the precocious child (who doesn't seem the least bit traumatized that Ruby is in jail) constantly lecturing Mona with Shirley Temple lines that have been carted out of mothballs. Joey Lauren Adams has a likable presence in a selfless part that doesn't suggest what she has to gain by putting up with Mona's infantile nonsense.

Fine comedies like Michael Ritchie's 1975 film "Smile" and last summer's unsung "Drop Dead Gorgeous" have already mined this territory with sharp, satirical aplomb. "Beautiful" has many twists and turns, but they lead to only one conclusion: having people on their feet cheering. But by that time, most audience members' feet will have already cleared the theatre. Starring Minnie Driver, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Joey Lauren Adams and Kathleen Turner. Directed by Sally Field. Written by Jon Bernstein. Produced by John Bertolli and B.J. Rack. A Destination release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for language and thematic elements. Running time: 112 min

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