Smile (Michael Ritchie / U.S., 1975):

The beauty pageant scene in Southern California as asinine refuge from Watergate and sideways pendant to Nashville, right down to the striptease. (Formanís The Firemenís Ball is another clear model of carefully balanced communal delusion.) The joke is that itís Michael Ritchieís sequel to the meat market in Prime Cut, the naked girls in the pigpen are now the accordionists and baton-twirlers vying for the "Young American Miss" crown with Vaseline-lubricated grins. The hopefuls come to town and join the cheery inanity: "Santa Rosa is so beautiful. I thought the shopping mall in Anaheim was great until I saw yours!" The local RV salesman (Bruce Dern) plays head judge, the coordinator is a ruthlessly perky iron maiden (Barbara Feldon), a choreographer (Michael Kidd) is brought in to keep the contestants from falling off the stage. ("Me Olí Bamboo" filtered through a marching band is the irritant of choice.) Dern hangs on to homilies, sighs like Vanya when recalling a near-date with Liz Taylor, and unwinds with sheet-swathed horseplay at "Exhausted Exalted Rooster" meetings. His pal (Nicholas Pryor) canít maintain the faÁade of congeniality as easily, "it just doesnít seem like much fun anymore," the breakdown takes place at home on the freshly shampooed carpet: "Donít worry, Iím standing on the paper," he tells his wife as he puts the pistol barrel in his mouth. Ritchie holds it together with rapid technique and a glancing eye for the emcee (Dick McGarvin) who pauses mid-platitude to check cue cards, the mechanical canary chirping in its cage, the bottle of hooch behind the Pepsi machine. And, despite its anger toward the event's emptiness, the movie doesnít hate the people in it -- it canít help gazing fondly at Annette OíTooleís wised-up showmanship as she offers her swimsuit-clad figure as evidence of "inner beauty," the earnest grace with which Joan Prather negotiates a priestís questions, and the business savvy of the boy (Eric Shea) outside the girlsí dressing room with a Polaroid camera. With Geoffrey Lewis, Melanie Griffith, Maria OíBrien, Colleen Camp, Denise Nickerson, Kate Sarchet, Tito Vandis, and Dennis Dugan.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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