MICHAEL RITCHIE’S SMILE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Michael Ritchie’s 1975 quick-witted beauty pageant satire Smile is one of those casually deceptive films from that era, as it combined pitch black comedy and straight face observation over small-town American life and all of the intricacies that would surround an event like the one depicted in this timeless-feeling movie; it has aged extremely well, and clearly served as a blueprint for the more modern effort Drop Dead Gorgeous. Smile was part of that legendary run of films for Ritchie in the late 60’s and into the 70’s, which included Downhill Racer, Prime Cut, The Candidate, The Bad News Bears, and Semi-Tough, all classics in their own particular way. Starring Bruce Dern, Barbara Feldon, Michael Kidd, Geoffrey Lewis, Eric Shea, Nicholas Pryor, and future filmmaker Dennis Dugan, Smile also introduced some exceedingly beautiful and talented actresses, including Melanie Griffith, Annette O’Toole, Colleen Camp, and Caroline Williams, while also showcasing a variety of non-professional actresses who were cast because of their beauty queen experience. The comedy on display, which leaned on improv in some very funny spots, was all born out of situation, character, and real life, with Ritchie and screenwriter Jerry Belsen using their setting as a way of holding up a mirror to society and saying “Look how crazy we all are!” Conrad L. Hall’s naturalistic cinematography only sweetens the deal. Sadly, despite excellent critical notices, releasing studio United Artists didn’t have much faith in the film on a commercial level, and dumped into in the four theaters that it owned, so as a result, it became a cult classic before it could ever have the chance of being embraced by wider audiences. Almost 10 years after the release of the film, the material would be adapted for the stage, featuring songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Ashman. Available on DVD.

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