Smile (1975) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
We had a bit of a split on this film. Scoop liked it a little, but was uninspired by the inconsistent and fair-to-middlin' comedy. Tuna liked it a lot, and found it a solid piece of social commentary.
It's not easy to do a good job with either vicious satire or black comedy. The inherent problem is that those literary genres tend to establish a relationship of condescension between the audience (in unison with the author) and the characters in the story. Since the audience has nobody to identify with, and since identification is the essence of vicarious literary pleasure, the black comedy must compensate the audience in some other way. The typical compensation would be one of the following:
The problem with Smile, a parody of small-time beauty pageants, is that it wavered between method one and method two.
It seemed to be trying at times to give us some characters to love:
In the last analysis, however, none of the sentimental devices or attempts to portray "genuine" people really worked. In fact, the sub-plot about the town drunk could and should have been cut completely from the film, since it really had no relevance at all. As for the other characters, the film needed to commit to them emotionally, and could never quite cross that line.
It did a better job on the actual satire of the vacuous contestants and the unctuous low-level showbiz types who organize and host the pageants. I liked the film best when it was being really cruel. One contestant shamelessly uses her Mexican-American heritage for sympathy. One girl's "talent" is folding clothes. The choreography is hilarious. The judges have private agendas. The host is an insincere empty suit with a massive ego. And so forth. That assortment of characters gave the film moments.
And that's what you'll get if you watch. Moments. Now that I think about it, I have about the same reaction to many of director Michael Ritchie's films: Semi-Tough, Fletch, The Scout. Some good moments, nothing more. The films always seem to lack sufficient inspiration to be great black comedies, but in each case there are times when the film seems that it might ... almost ... get there.
|Tuna's comments in yellow:
Smile tells the story of the California
State finals for the Young American Miss pageant, which was clearly
modeled after the Junior Miss Pageant, a national pageant for girls of
high school age. It takes place in Santa Rosa, California, and the JCs
invest most of their treasury in putting it on each year. The film plays
more or less as a comedy, and focuses on the contestants, the pageant
sponsors, the volunteers, and the social structure in the town. Some
argue that it is a send-up of beauty contests, making it a black comedy,
but frankly, it is just not mean enough for that, and they take a good
deal of time creating some sympathetic characters for us. So, is it a
light comedy? No, not really. None of the sympathetic characters do well
in the end. So, taken strictly as a comedy, I would have to say that it
had some brilliant, and laugh-out-loud funny moments, but not enough to
make it great.
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