Smile (1975) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

We had a bit of a split on this film. Scoop liked it a little, but was uninspired by the inconsistent and fair-to-middlin' comedy. Tuna liked it a lot, and found it a solid piece of social commentary.

It's not easy to do a good job with either vicious satire or black comedy. The inherent problem is that those literary genres tend to establish a relationship of condescension between the audience (in unison with the author) and the characters in the story. Since the audience has nobody to identify with, and since identification is the essence of vicarious literary pleasure, the black comedy must compensate the audience in some other way. The typical compensation would be one of the following:

1) Method One: The black comedy is so inventive and funny that the lack of an emotional anchor is not noticed by the audience. (The Stanley Kubrick approach in Lolita and especially in Doctor Strangelove.)

2) Method Two: The black comedy is offset by a true generosity of spirit toward some sympathetic characters. (The Mel Brooks approach, seen most clearly in Blazing Saddles.)

The problem with Smile, a parody of small-time beauty pageants, is that it wavered between method one and method two.

It seemed to be trying at times to give us some characters to love:

  • the nice, naive girl

  • the bitter town drunk who questions the false values of the town which is hosting the pageant

  • the professional choreographer whose rough exterior disguises compassion and genuine concern for the girls

  • the son of the pageant organizer, who is a normal teenager and just wants to see naked contestants

In the last analysis, however, none of the sentimental devices or attempts to portray "genuine" people really worked. In fact, the sub-plot about the town drunk could and should have been cut completely from the film, since it really had no relevance at all. As for the other characters, the film needed to commit to them emotionally, and could never quite cross that line.

It did a better job on the actual satire of the vacuous contestants and the unctuous low-level showbiz types who organize and host the pageants. I liked the film best when it was being really cruel. One contestant shamelessly uses her Mexican-American heritage for sympathy. One girl's "talent" is folding clothes. The choreography is hilarious. The judges have private agendas. The host is an insincere empty suit with a massive ego. And so forth. That assortment of characters gave the film moments.

And that's what you'll get if you watch. Moments.  Now that I think about it, I have about the same reaction to many of director Michael Ritchie's films: Semi-Tough, Fletch, The Scout. Some good moments, nothing more. The films always seem to lack sufficient inspiration to be great black comedies, but in each case there are times when the film seems that it might ... almost ... get there.



  • No meaningful features.



  • Joan Prather - buns
  • Colleen Camp - buns and side-rear breasts.
  • Melanie Griffith - breasts
  • unknown contestant - one breast from  the side
Tuna's comments in yellow:

Smile tells the story of the California State finals for the Young American Miss pageant, which was clearly modeled after the Junior Miss Pageant, a national pageant for girls of high school age. It takes place in Santa Rosa, California, and the JCs invest most of their treasury in putting it on each year. The film plays more or less as a comedy, and focuses on the contestants, the pageant sponsors, the volunteers, and the social structure in the town. Some argue that it is a send-up of beauty contests, making it a black comedy, but frankly, it is just not mean enough for that, and they take a good deal of time creating some sympathetic characters for us. So, is it a light comedy? No, not really. None of the sympathetic characters do well in the end. So, taken strictly as a comedy, I would have to say that it had some brilliant, and laugh-out-loud funny moments, but not enough to make it great.

However, I don't believe that is what this film is really about. First, some background. I left Parochial school and entered public high school in my junior year. I was dealing with all of the typical teen angst, even more so as Vietnam was escalating. First period home room, during announcements, they announced the important accomplishments of students over the summer. Seems the speech club had been busy winning trophies, and a senior had been second runner up to Junior Miss USA. My first thought was, "big deal. She represented us in a national contest and blew it." Then it occurred to me that a beauty contest contestant would be worth ogling. I was amazed to discover that the beauty contestant was the rather unremarkable girl sitting in front of me. I got to know her a little, and learned enough about the contest to know that it had been a lot of work, and was a calculated move to add a big plus to her transcript.

Still dealing with those self-doubts born of teen angst, I made friends, many of them "important" kids such as athletes and cheerleaders. They seemed to have everything together, and I had them on pedestals. Then, one by one, they fell off. I began to realize that all these fears, doubts, and unfulfilled potentials that were so tied up in my self image had not even occurred to these over-achievers, most, if not all of whom, had money and the sort of parents who did everything for them. I was dealing with issues that they had yet to face, and the start of my self esteem was the realization that my self assessment was pretty accurate, but that those I had so much admired had not even started the journey.

The US Navy intervened, and I lost track of most of these people, but I did hear of some who fell apart in college, or had one disastrous relationship after another, and others who managed to grow up and become self-aware and well adjusted adults. This is, in my opinion, what the film is really getting at. The comedy spoof of the teen beauty pageant was just the vehicle to get us there. The main character, Big Bob (Bruce Dern), was born and raised in town, and was a model citizen with a successful business selling RVs. He had a wife and son, and was president of several civic organizations, as well as the head judge for the pageant. Barbara Feldon was a serious organizer of the pageant, and unhappily married to Big Bob's best friend, Nicholas Pryor. The key to the film comes near the end, when Pryor has just taken a shot at his wife, and decided to get out of town and "find himself." He turns to Dern's character, and says, "I finally know what you are. You are a Young American Miss." In other words, Dern has had a life of privilege, was not predisposed to self-awareness, and never had to grow up, exactly like those people I had worshiped in High School. The same was true for many of the characters.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.4/10. I suppose that makes it overrated, but it is a good movie in some ways, and a score in the high 6s would be reasonable.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This is a C. Good dark comedy, but not great, and overrated at both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes." Tuna says, "As a comedy, it is a C, some very good moments, but not enough to make it rise above the heap. However, as social commentary with a comedy backdrop, it fares much better, and is a C+."

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