Back before we ever considered Chad a four letter word, back before we elected a president who received over 500,000 less votes than his opponent, I won the ultimate popularity contest in my fifth grade class at Central Park Elementary School. My classmates voted me "Citizen of the Year" and it wasn't even close enough for a recount.
What had I done to deserve such an honor? Had I organized a student movement to clean up school yard litter? Nope. Had I led a protest over having to wear those standard ugly blue uniforms in gym class? Nope. Had I demanded higher quality school lunches that actually tasted and resembled actual food products? Nope. Did I lobby the teachers to ensure less homework? Think again Pepe. I was just a nice little guy that everybody seemed to like. Could the lesson therefore be that to be a good citizen is as simple as being as nice and popular as you can be? Hmmmm. Call me Mr. Congeniality.
Speaking of which, Sandra Bullock is a likable enough actress. I don't know of anyone with the exception of my pal Spunky who dislikes her. You may not like her movies and you may have no feelings about her whatsoever but in general I don't think there's anything about her screen personality that is all that unlikable. One of her first movies, Love Potion #9, ironically enough was written by Spunky's cousin, Dale Launer. In it Sandra played a nerdy scientist with a nerdy boyfriend. When they get their hands on a magical love potion they become irresistible to members of the opposite sex. But the lesson of the movie was that it wasn't only the chemicals that changed things. With a new found confidence both Sandra and her boyfriend developed the inner strength needed to be attractive to others. Sandra broke out of her cocoon by shedding her big glasses and protruding teeth. Beneath that waif of a person was a beautiful woman waiting to emerge.
Her new movie, Ms. Congeniality, isn't merely just a repeat of that previous film, it is a disappointing step back. If the new film didn't star Bullock and didn't feature some fine supporting performances by Michael Caine, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen, it would be in a word, dreadful. But somehow the cast is able to rise above the inane plot of a tomboy FBI agent who must find her feminine side in order to work undercover at a beauty pageant.
That Bullock served as the producer of the film suggests it may be time for somebody to take her aside and say, "Sandra my dear god love ya, but you can't live off your popularity forever. Someday if you keep choosing the same scripts over and over there are gonna be more people who side with that prophet Spunky. You my friend need to start making a better class of movies or risk a future in some lame TV sitcom."
There's a certain underlying sadness about Ms. Congeniality. Bullock's character, Gracie Hart, is a tough but lonely 30ish woman. Her most endearing quality besides her biting sarcasm might be her chuckling snort. She admits she has only had a couple of dates over the past several years excusing her obvious loneliness by saying her job is taking up all her time. Neglect those around you long enough and you end up drowning your sorrows with a pint (of Ben and Jerry's that is). But Gracie obviously has a big heart as she helps the lacking in self confidence Ms. Rhode Island believe in herself enough to have a chance to win the pageant.
The best part of the film is that Gracie does let down her shield and actually starts to like her fellow pageant members rather than looking down at their light bulb screwing waves and pleas for world peace. She sees that at least they (unlike her government thug colleagues) sincerely care about what they are doing and only in the end want to make the world a better place. No matter how shallow that wish may be is it such a bad thing to want?
Perhaps the point of the movie is that despite the makeover, despite the sexier wardrobe the made up Sandra really isn't any more beautiful than the rough and tumble never get a second look from her fellow FBI pigs true self. It is her sense of humor, her disengaging smile, her aggressive saunter that warms the heart more than any low cut cleavage revealing outfit can ever do. Beauty is in many ways skin deep as we are constantly bombarded with images of what we should and should not be attracted to. But after you peel all that away, after you wash away all the makeup what is truly beautiful is the heart that can find the way to give itself to others. Call it congenital congeniality.