Sunday, December 20, 2009

Netflix pick of the month: SMILE

Since it’s the holiday season I thought I’d suggest a comedy that is cynical, unsentimental, not for kids, and features a Klan type meeting. SMILE from 1975 is a largely undiscovered gem.

It’s all about a cheesy beauty contest in Santa Rosa, California. We follow the contestants (who are blessed with such talents as suitcase packing), the organizers, and some pre-teens trying to sneak peeks at the girls when they’re naked. The movie is steeped in Americana. This is the kind of film the Coen Brothers would have made if they weren’t like nine at the time.

Michael Richie directed in a very “mockumentary” style. But the script by Jerry Belson is really the star. Great biting satire on the importance we place on these absurd superficial competitions. A parallel could be drawn to today’s reality shows if one is so inclined. But if not, hey, just come for the laughs.

Belson (profiled here) was one of the great writers of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ODD COUPLE, and HAPPY DAYS. This movie was made into a Broadway play a few years ago and in Jerry’s Playbill bio he said, “SMILE fulfills a lifelong dream for Mr. Belson – to get paid twice for the same script”.

Several performances of note: the young Melanie Griffith and Annette O’Toole, and Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) as a former beauty queen whose entire self-worth is connected to the pageant.

Is you like scheming, young women in underwear, patriotism, explosions, bad choreography, the American Dream, laughter, and suitcase packing advice, SMILE is for you.

Here's the trailer:

21 comments:

benson said...

What a year Curt Gowdy had; the 1975 World Series, and the vo for the trailer for Smile.

Great movie.

frankenscoop said...

ha ha looks good, I found it on dvdplanet (website), they have a store in huntington beach, I'll look there too.

Bob said...

"And that girl had a wooden leg!"

Great movie.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

A beauty pagent comedy starring Bruce Dern? Sounds right.

rob! said...

Annette O'Toole's in it? SOLD!

Max Clarke said...

Annette O'Toole was quite good in the 80s movie, "Cat People." First time I saw her.

Bob Claster said...

This movie has always been a real favorite of mine. Part of the string of movies made by Michael Ritchie about the American obsession with winning (Downhill Racer, The Candidate, Bad News Bears, Semi-Tough). Unfortunately, I think that you might want to fast forward through a lot of the Bruce Dern / Barbara Feldon scenes, which are rather soapy. But all of the beauty pageant stuff is hilarious. Make sure to have plenty of Guacamole Dip (the native dish of my people) on hand.

Bob Claster said...

Oh... and I also forgot to mention how absolutely great Michael Kidd is in the movie.

jbryant said...

The girl with the guacamole dip is Maria O'Brien, daughter of the great character actor Edmond O'Brien and singer/actress Olga San Juan.

Great movie. That run of movies Bob Claster mentions was a fantastic achievement for Michael Ritchie. A shame he couldn't seem to keep it going with any consistency.

Ian said...

I've always touted Smile as one of the best examples of smart writing making ordinary people seem interesting, even while doing fairly banal things. Nowadays we seem to celebrate dumbness, and writers pander to that. In Smile even the school janitor gets a few good lines - funny, but natural. I suspect that his role in a current movie would be slapstick action and less rueful prognostication on the toilets backing up.

The strangeness of the initiation at the Klan meeting still jars - the low point of the movie for me.

The high point - well, points really - are the daily captions that come up and the splendid reveal of what they really are!

Lairbo said...

Favorite line, musician at pageant rehearsal: "Four years at Julliard for THIS".

rita said...

chaplin would have loved this!

Bob Claster said...

Just realized I sort of misspoke. The scenes that you might want to skip past in SMILE are the ones with Barbara Feldon and Nicholas Pryor, not the ones with Feldon and Dern. There's a whole domestic subplot about her husband (Pryor) that's a bit of a drag. Still, there's so much that is hilarious in this movie, don't let that keep you from watching it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
Here's a Friday question for you: How does a major TV actor (like Kelsey Grammer) who has been in major hits (like Cheers and Frasier) end up in a stinker like Hank?

Once an actor has the clout of a Grammer, can't he insist on bringing in the best production team and writers -- people he's worked with in the past? That would be one way to ensure a certain level of quality.

Or doesn't it work that way?

Ref said...

Grammar has bad taste.

It wasn't a Klan meeting. It was a JayCees initiation. Let's not give people the wrong idea.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Jodi Benson ("Ariel" the Little Mermaid, Crazy for You) was one of the stars of the musical, which had music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Howard Ashman. It had a marvelous song called "Disneyland." I'll never forget when she sang it on The Merv Griffin Show with Hamlisch on piano. It's on an album called "Unsung Musicals."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lS-o9Nanm7k

Kirk Jusko said...

Dern was hilarious in that.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

My dad had a friend at United Artists who gave me a "Smile" t-shirt I wore for years. Never had the vaguest idea what the movie was about. Just so you know those promotional line items on your net profits statement are all well-spent.

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wv: "dimmus" = a slow-witted Jew in Saudi Arabia

Ref said...

CRANETH: What Kelsey Grammar did best.

Paul Duca said...

Curt Gowdy would have an even closer relationship with beauty contests...his son and namesake Curt Jr. married Karen Morris, who was America's Junior Miss 1974--the pageant that is likely Jerry Belson's main inspiration.

This is the same title that was also held by Diane Sawyer and NEWHART's Mary Frann

This links to a video on YouTube, while about "The Prom" opens with footage of the Junior Miss pageant and Frann's crowning.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoQ8M9y3xak

Anonymous said...

Remember the line "and that girl had a wooden leg". Some years after I saw Smile I was at a high school graduation at a very fundamentalist school. The speaker told a story about a barrel-racing teen and her horse. The final line was (in the exact tone of "Smile"): and that horse .... was BLIND. 500 people gave a gasp of inspiredness, and I burst into screams of laughter.