In our regular polarising-opinion series, one Total Film writer argues that Miss Congeniality is Sandra Bullock's crowning achievement.
Read on, and let us know what you think of the argument aired by having your say in the comments section below.
Is it just me... or is Miss Congeniality Sandra Bullock's best performance? asks Jamie Graham
This month, political drama Our Brand Is Crisis sees Sandra Bullock again favour chops over chuckles, as is often the case with her movies these days. Having accelerated on to the A-list in 1994 with Speed, she spent the remainder of the decade in comedies, thrillers and romances (The Net, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Practical Magic, Forces Of Nature). Sure, with the exception of superior weepie While You Were Sleeping, all of them were crap, but Sandy shone – proof you can indeed polish a turd.
Then, in 2000, Bullock starred in rehab drama 28 Days. And so began the gravitational pull towards 'serious' performances – first Crash (2004), then Infamous (2006) and finally a Best Actress statuette for playing the brassy, inspirational Leigh Anne Tuohy in biopic The Blind Side (2009). Hell, she almost nabbed a second Oscar four years later for getting lost in space in Gravity.
But let's rewind to 2000 - not to 28 Days but to Bullock's other movie of that year, Miss Congeniality. She plays Gracie Hart, an 'unkempt' (as the tagline has it) FBI agent with two left feet, a snorting laugh and a huge gob that's usually chomping on a doughnut. Imagine graceless Gracie's horror, then, when it's discovered that the Miss United States beauty pageant is a target for terrorists, and she's to go undercover as a contestant.
Her manners must be polished, her gait straightened (“I haven't seen a walk like that since Jurassic Park,” gasps Michael Caine's 'beauty consultant'), and her bikini line waxed. Most of all, though, her sneering derision for her new air-head colleagues (“April 25th,” replies Miss Rhode Island when asked for her idea of a perfect date) and what they stand for (“World peace!”) must be overcome if she's to maintain her cover.
Developed by Bullock's production company Fortis Films, Miss Congeniality is tailor-made for its star's considerable talents. Sandy, of course, has always been Hollywood's unfeasibly gorgeous girl next door, so who else to play a galumphing, punchbag-pounding social misfit who transforms, Pygmalion-like, into a ravishing beauty with impeccable etiquette?
But the key here, along with incessant one-liners that sparkle like a tiara, is the balancing act at play. At once poking fun at the shallow, politically un-PC world of ditzy beauty contestants and highlighting that anyone who views these fine women as such is the real dimwit, Miss Congeniality is a subversive treat, potently feminist in unexpected ways.
It's certainly more elaborately feathered than most 'ugly duckling' transformation tales. As Gracie says, when asked what she'd say to people who view Miss United States as outdated: “I used to be one of them. And then I came here and realised these women are smart, terrific people... And if anyone – /anyone/ – tries to hurt one of my new friends, I will take them out… I will make them suffer… And if they run, I will hunt them down.” Bullock's never been funnier or, indeed, stronger. Or is it just me?
Agree or disagree with Jamie? Hit the comments section below to have your say!