The Cult Film Flop That Made These Starlets Famous
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because flops can have the most fantastic fans.
By Nick Fouriezos
When you watch two-time Golden Globe–winning actress Amy Adams in Batman v. Superman, some of you might see Lois Lane. But I see ditsy cheerleader-turned-stripper Leslie Miller, Adams’ movie debut, in the 1999 box-office-slash-critical-flop Drop Dead Gorgeous. Every family reunion, four of my siblings and I cram together on the couch to watch this skewering of American beauty pageants, interrupting one another with quotes and bewildering our poor guests, who usually don’t quite get it. The film features other A-list actresses, including Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, Kirstie Alley, Brittany Murphy, Denise Richards and the film’s star, a pre-Spider-Man Kirsten Dunst. Yet despite that all-star cast — and the Fouriezos clan’s undying affection — DDG bombed … hard.
What else could you expect from a movie with one-liners like “Jesus loves winners”? The wickedly irreverent mockumentary spans funeral parlors and high school gymnasiums, lampooning small-town folks, candy stripers, helicopter parents, the mentally disabled and, well, anorexics. Not exactly highbrow. And while the film won points for whip-smart dialogue, most critics felt it picked too hard on its all-American source material. Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Wesley Morris wrote it should be “hauled off to the ‘Jerry Springer’ hall of shame” for its portrayal of poor whites, while The Washington Post’s Desson Howe took offense at a “grotesque” scene in which Barkin has a beer can grafted onto her hand after her trailer is blown up in an act of competitive subterfuge.
The movie redeems itself with a rare combination of wit and grit — especially for those of us who never sniffed a homecoming crown. And it’s built a dedicated following: A few years ago, Janney told BuzzFeed that fans recognized her more often as Dunst’s crass neighbor than for her Emmy-winning role on The West Wing. Some staying moments: a LOL lip-syncing of “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” and a hilariously tasteless rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” that may or may not involve a certain religious icon. That irreverence may fit today better, now that competitions with young women dressing up and performing for (often male) judges is not seen quite so rosily. “I would not be surprised if most of the early fans of this [movie] were women who had had it with the beauty contest thing,” says Jay Boyar, a co-founder of the Florida Film Critics Circle who gave DDG a rare mostly positive review while with the Orlando Sentinel.
Mockumentaries like This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman laid the groundwork, but it wasn’t until sitcoms like The Office and Modern Family that the genre truly entered the mainstream. Now, it’s “accepted,” Boyar says. There’s plenty of room on the bandwagon — though not on the Fouriezos family couch — so long as you’re willing to pony up around $50 for a used copy of DDG. Or, wait until this summer, when, a Warner Bros. rep told OZY, the company will release a physical disc version.