Miss Congeniality was the first of three Sandra Bullock films to be directed by Donald Petrie. Rated ‘M’, due to its low level violence, the all American comedy film was released by Warner Bros in 2000. Miss Congeniality later went on to claim the ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy’, ‘Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture,’ and ‘Favourite Actress – Comedy’ . The success of this film is based upon Bullock’s acting abilities and a great script that includes adventure, action, humour and romance all in one.
Gracie Hart, played by Sandra Bullock, is an undercover FBI agent with a reputation for being aggressive, tomboyish and hard-nosed. Her argumentative nature has made her few friends, apart from her trusting, sensitive partner, Eric Matthews, played by Benjamin Bratt. Her true abilities are however put to the test when she is called upon to infiltrate a Miss United States Pageant after a terrorist threatens to bomb it.
Gracie, who prides herself on her toughness, must now feminise her behaviour to effectively participate in the pageant with the help of Victor Melling, played by Michael Caine, a beauty pageant consultant who dreams of whisking away Gracie’s past and creating “Gracie Lou Freebush” for an appreciative, all-American audience. Gracie must play the role of a beauty queen and FBI agent and try not to blow her undercover outfit. Miss Congeniality, which was produced by the star herself, also features William Shatner and Candice Bergen in supporting roles.
The extract I would like to show you is at the beginning of the movie when Gracie receives her makeover. This scene is one of the most important scenes in the film as it is the turning point for the whole movie. This extract will show you the creativeness of the director and editors as many editing techniques have being shown, and we will see how a ‘rough character’ is transformed into beauty pageant entrant. *Plays Extract* Let me begin by discussing some of the mise en scene elements.
The scenes shown in this extract were mainly constructed sets, although in the beginning and end of the extract, the hangar (used to store aircraft) is an actual location. Inside the hangar, a constructed set has been made. Why not in a normal studio you might ask? Well, the director wanted to accentuate that the FBI agents were running low on time in their efforts to transform Gracie into a Miss United States Pageant contestant. The props used throughout the extract were what you would expect to find in your average dentist surgery, gym, beauty and tanning salon, hairdresser, hangar and undercover spy gear.
Everything from jets, dental equipment, pedicure and manicure equipment, a tanning bed, waxing supplies, exercise pieces, wigs, food, ear pieces, an American flag badge with hidden camera, Identification, sunglasses and cars are included. Most of these props are used by the characters when performing Hart’s makeover. Lighting in this particular extract, reflects the changes from late night to early morning. The lighting used during the night scene is hard because it illuminates detail and creates realism.
The direction of lighting is a mix between, front, top, key and fill. The lighting used in the early morning is natural with a hard frontal intensity, yet again to create the realism. Costumes worn by Gracie Hart in the beginning of the extract are very tomboyish to emphasise that fact that her character doesn’t care about her overall appearance. Formal attire is worn by the FBI agents to show a sign of confidence and professionalism. The outfits worn by the dentists and beauticians are in various shades of pink, to show signs of femininity, style and quality.
Gracie’s costume at the end is girly and tight fitting, to show what has been hiding behind those daggy clothes, and her change from the ugly duckling to the beautiful swan. Make-up worn by Hart in the beginning is natural and very minimal, and appears as though it is invisible. All men are wearing very minimal make-up. The beauticians are wearing a more visible make-up to show they have an interest in their career and like taking care of themselves.
By the end of the extract, Gracie wears a natural make-up that isn’t over the top, for she still isn’t comfortable with her new found feminine side. The behaviours displayed by the FBI agents, beauticians and Victor Melling are all very realistic with their appearances, gestures, facial expressions, tones and voices. However, this is different to Hart’s character; she is realistic yet with a sense of sarcasm, and over the top; all for comedic purposes. Semiotics wise, there weren’t many diegetic sounds. The main one would be the landing of the jet in the beginning of the scene.
There are, however, many non-diegetic sounds coming from the background including music, notices over the speakers, indistinctive chattering, Gracie’s scream, the opening of the hangar doors, planes landing and taking off and Mustang Sally playing when Gracie’s character appears at the end. This song could have been chosen for this scene because Eric is totally blown away by Gracie’s makeover, and the lyrics ‘better slow that mustang down’ is referring to him to calm himself down.
There was a lot of use of different camera angles in this extract. The camera angles included high angle and eyeline matching, with a mixture of long shots, Plan-American shots, medium shots, medium close ups, close ups, extreme closes up and subjective shots. The extreme close up was of Hart getting her fingers waxed, too really show how “rough” of a character she really is and to show what she has to go through in order to be successful undercover agent. All cameras were used at high and level height and were straight and canted frames.
Editing techniques used throughout this extract include shot reverse shots, when characters are having conversations, and establishing shots at the beginning and end of the extract, a reverse establishing shot and expansion. The expansion takes places at the end of the scene when Hart is walking out of the hangar; this has been used to emphasise she is a “changed” person on the outside, but on the inside she is still her normal self. This movie is fun to watch. The storyline of turning an ugly duckling into a beauty is every teenage girls dream.
The bright humour is what makes it stand out. I loved the performance of Sandra Bullock and Michael Caine, who are hilarious; and they pretty much take over the show. But overall, I think if you are a fan of Sandra, is it a must see. Director Donald Petrie has been successful in bringing Gracie’s character to life by making her believable, in the way that she had many imperfections, because the average person is not perfect.
For example, Hart didn’t care about dieting, she loved her junk food; she also didn’t care about being dolled up, wearing track pants and a sweat shirt was good enough for her. Lastly, Gracie acted like a normal everyday person, she didn’t have multiple, or “fake” personalities or didn’t care if people liked her and she treated everyone the same. All of this has made Hart to be a believable character, because everyone can relate to her in one way or another.