Killer Looks: Legendary Lew Interviews Lauren Whalen on the Cult Appeal of “Drop Dead Gorgeous”

dropdead1Estrogen deficiency in midnight movie viewing is cured this weekend as Lauren Whalen of Chicago Theater Beat presents “Girls, Guns and Glitter, Don’cha Know: Drop Dead Gorgeous and the Wild World of Mock Doc.”  Legendary Lew gets the lowdown on this influential comedy which joined “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and “Dick” as among the funniest female-centric comedies of the late 1990’s.

LL: Could you tell a little about “Drop Dead Gorgeous?”

LW: It’s a darkly funny and very quotable 1999 mockumentary about a beauty pageant gone bad. In Mount Rose, Minnesota, teenage boys get hockey scholarships or go to prison and teenage girls enter the Mount Rose American Teen Princess competition. Our heroine, Amber Atkins, is an ace tap dancer who works in the school cafeteria and at the localDrop_Dead_Gorgeous mortuary, and dreams of following in the footsteps of former “pageant girl”, Diane Sawyer. Her rival, Becky Leeman, also has her eyes on the prize – and Becky is rich, the vice president of the Lutheran Women’s Gun Club, and has the stage mother from hell who’s also the pageant organizer. And in the meantime, people are getting knocked off at an alarming rate.

“Drop Dead Gorgeous” has great turns from Kirsten Dunst (doing her best Minnesota accent, don’cha know), Denise Richards (way before Charlie Sheen), Kirstie Alley (as the horrid stage mom) and Ellen Barkin (as Amber’s beer-guzzling mama). Allison Janney is fantastic as Amber’s drunk and horny neighbor – she’s said she gets asked more about this movie than she does about “The West Wing”, if you can believe it.

LL: When people think of midnight movies, male-based films in certain genres usually come to mind–scifi, horror, exploitation. Since “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is centered around female characters at a beauty pageant, where do you think the overlap is with the usual midnight movie?

LW: Cult film is largely a boys’ club. When I worked at Facets, it took me years to get comfortable talking movies with the “cool kids” (mostly men). I’m the only female presenter this session at Night School – even when that’s not the case, I’m one of two or maybe three in an eight-week session. I can’t speak for my entire gender, of course, but I do try to present female-driven films (like “Mulholland Dr.”) or ones with strong female characters (like “Brick”) because there is a place for women in the midnight movie world.

“Drop Dead Gorgeous” isn’t a “boy movie” or a “girl movie”. (I don’t think any movie should be classified this way.) Yes, all the main characters are women and it’s about a beauty pageant, but it’s got this absurdist vibe that’s also strangely true to life. Beauty pageants are fascinating, and they are bizarre, and those in the world are obsessed. In “Drop Dead Gorgeous”, someone is literally killing to win, and there are cat fights and explosions and carnage galore. It’s this hilarious juxtaposition of sequins and bright smiles, and blood and fire. Twisted intelligence that has you laughing and shaking your head equals the quintessential midnight movie.

LL:  What engages you most about the humor in “Drop Dead Gorgeous?”

“DDG”‘s director, Michael Patrick Jann, is an alum of the comedy collective The State. If you’ve seen “Reno 911!”, “Party Down” or “Wet Hot American Summer”, you’re familiar with this group. They were a bunch Dropdead2of film and theater majors from NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts that had a show for a couple of years on MTV, then split up and infiltrated Hollywood. When I was a 14-year-old theater geek, I’d watch The State in my basement. Jann directed a lot of sketches and would often appear shirtless. I have him to thank for my entrance into puberty.

Hormones aside, The State had this really odd sense of humor that’s carried through all their work. It’s very base yet artistic, theatrical and dark, abstract but sort of childlike too. It’s smart – which appealed to me a lot as a teen, and now – but doesn’t take itself too seriously. As a director, Jann takes every opportunity for humor, whether it’s slapstick or clever or uncomfortable. He pulls absolutely no punches. Just brilliant.

Also, I just really like glitter.

LL:  What other potential midnight movies, if any, would you compare this movie to?

LW: “This is Spinal Tap”. Anything in the Christopher Guest oeuvre. “Wet Hot American Summer”. “Team America: World Police”, which has been featured at Night School in the past. “Death Proof”.

Thanks to Lauren for the interview! Be sure to check out her reviews at Chicago Theater Beat.

Girls, Guns and Glitter, Don’cha Know: Drop Dead Gorgeous and the Wild World of Mock Doc
Saturday night May 4th, 2013 at 11:59pm
Facets Multimedia
1517 W Fullerton
Chicago, IL 60614
Admission: $5, FREE for Facets Members. Become one here.
All students: receive one FREE small popcorn with valid student ID.

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