director: sally field
minnie driver, hallie kate eisenberg

. The easiest way to tell if you’re watching a “guy movie” is to count the female characters. The Die Hard films, for instance, have few who aren’t wives or victims. The ultimate guy movie -- Patton -- has none at all. Similarly, the best way to spot a “chick flick” is to count the male characters who are little more than clueless boyfriends or soon-to-be-ex-husbands. Thelma and Louise is, by this logic, the Patton of chick flicks.

Beautiful, the directorial debut of actress Sally Field, is a chick flick set in the world of beauty pageants, where men, ironically perhaps, exist merely in the periphery of judges and spectators surrounding the surreally neurotic and viciously competitive world of the beauty queen. Minnie Driver plays Mona, a ferociously willful and deluded young woman who has let nothing stand in the way of becoming Miss American Miss, going so far as to give her daughter (the Shirley Temple of the millenium, Hallie Kate Eisenberg) to her best friend, the supernaturally maternal Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams).

There’s a message about female empowerment somewhere in the film, but it’s soft-soaped by the toothless satire and the emotionally manipulative plot that requires tears at clockwork intervals. If anything, the film finally confirms that Minnie Driver is the Lucille Ball of her generation -- an immensely appealing comedienne who isn’t afraid to look absurd and fantastic at the same time.