Described by critics as “crude and witless”, “numbingly unfunny” and “relentlessly defective”, scraping a meagre taking at the box office, Drop Dead Gorgeous was upon its release in 1999 a failure. The story of a beauty pageant gone wrong in a God fearing pocket of Minnesota, spun from the real-life experiences of writer Lona Williams, panned so much that it deterred both writer and director from Hollywood for years.
“It was so hurtful on a deep level, because there was so much of myself in this,” explains Williams, who won a scholarship to university after winning her local pageant. The cast would move on; Kirsten Dunst and Denise Richards would maintain their statuses as teen royalty, Amy Adams, who made her debut in the film would be nominated for five Oscars and win two Golden Globes.
All spoke fondly of their time on the film, but it was Allison Janney who became the first hint at Drop Dead Gorgeous’ lasting impact. DDG1‘It’s the thing that people out of the blue come up to me and say, “Oh my god, I absolutely loved you in …,” and I’m thinking they’re going to say “Mom” or “The West Wing,” but instead it’s “Drop Dead Gorgeous,”’ she mentioned in an interview a few years ago exclusively about the film.
It storms the Bechdel Test, with no male central characters, and manipulates a backwards American tradition into a platform for success, freedom and friendship. The girls band together in the face of danger and actually help each other in the competition, a trait perhaps less entertaining than when women are pitted against each other but certainly more encouraging.
As the teen movie wave of the mid 90s to early 00s continues to hold a place in the hearts of millennials, Drop Dead Gorgeous may take a back seat as Clueless and Mean Girls steal the limelight, but this slow burner proved in many ways far more progressive than its peers, remembered not because of 90s nostalgia but for its biting, self aware account of small town pageantry that doesn’t sacrifice the importance of loveable characters and a positive message for its audience.
Drop Dead Gorgeous is being screened by the Bechdel Test Fest – teaming up with the LOCO Film Festival – on April 21st. Details of the event can be found here.