Drop Dead Gorgeous is a 1999 American dark comedy film, directed by Michael Patrick Jann and starring Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Denise Richards, Brittany Murphy and Kirsten Dunst. Shot in a mockumentary format, it follows the contestants in a beauty pageant called the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant, held in the small town of Mount Rose, Minnesota. The film is also notable for featuring the debut of the Academy Award nominated actress Amy Adams.
Many Mount Rose girls compete in the pageant simply to have something to do while others seek to win the scholarship money to leave the small dead end down of Mount Rose. One of such contestants, Amber Atkins, does it in order to be more like her idol, Diane Sawyer. Rebecca Leeman is the daughter of the richest man in town, and her mother, Gladys Leeman, is not only the head of the pageant organizing committee but also a former winner. Various business connections between the Leeman Furniture Store and the judges of the pageant (one is an employee) prompt many whispers around town that the contest will be fixed.
Many odd things start happening to people in the run up to the pageant; one of the contestants, Tammy Curry, is blown up while riding a tractor. Brett Clemmens, Rebecca's love interest (who is more interested in Amber), is shot dead in a "hunting accident." Fearing for her life, Amber decides to pull out of the pageant after her mother, Annette, is injured during an explosion at their mobile home. After a pep-talk with family friend Loretta and a heart-to-heart with her mother, Amber reconsiders. At the dress rehearsal, fellow contestant Jenelle Betz (originally contestant number 8), swaps positions with Amber (originally contestant number 1). When Jenelle walks on stage at the beginning of rehearsal to perform her talent piece, a stage light falls and hits her in the head, knocking her unconscious and causing her to become deaf, which in a twist of irony, makes her happy, as prior to the incident she longed to help deaf children.
At the pageant (despite her tap costume going missing), Amber performs her tap-dance number to a standing ovation, while Rebecca Leeman sings (appallingly badly) and dances with a Jesus doll on a rolling crucifix. Though Amber gains an outfit that replaced the one that mysteriously disappeared, she only ends up first runner up to Rebecca. However, during the victory parade the next day, Rebecca Leeman, in an elaborate swan float designed by her mother and constructed by her father's Mexican workers, is incinerated in a freak accident caused by Gladys lighting the fireworks at the base of the swan. Standing by the burnt-out float, the grief-stricken Gladys admits to killing Tammy and to being responsible for all the attempts against Amber in the run-up to the pageant in order to get rid of all of Rebecca's competition. She is then arrested.
At Rebecca's funeral, Amber is crowned Mount Rose's American Teen Princess and goes on to the state competition. At the State Competition, Amber wins the Minnesota American Teen Princess title by default after all the other contestants fall ill with seafood-related food poisoning. (Amber's mom taught her not to eat anything that carries its house with it because "who knows when's the last time they cleaned it.") It turns out later that Gladys was behind the poisoning after asking favors from her cellmates who have friends on the outside. As the winner, Amber gets an all-expenses-paid trip to Lincoln, Alabama, where the national Sarah Rose American Teen Princess Pageant is held. Upon arrival, Amber and the other contestants find that the company has been shut down by the IRS for tax evasion. While the distraught girls wreck the forecourt of the shuttered Sarah Rose Cosmetics building, Amber simply sighs and gets back onto the girls' chartered bus.
At the end of the film, after being runner up in a prison beauty pageant, Gladys escapes from prison and takes a sniper position on top of a local supermarket, determined to take Amber down. During the 6 hour police siege, a television reporter doing a live report at the scene is hit by a stray shot; Amber quickly picks up her mic and takes over for her. The film closes with Amber as anchor of the evening news for a Minneapolis/St. Paul television station, presuming that the wounded reporter had died and Amber was given her job for showing extreme grace under pressure.
The movie is set in the fictional town of Mount Rose, Minnesota (which is a reversal of the real town of Rosemount or a play on Montrose). The accents portrayed in the movie are that of the North Central American dialect found in the Midwest, notably Minnesota.
Kirsten Dunst's character Amber Atkins was inspired by news reporter Diane Sawyer, who is mentioned throughout the film as Amber's idol.
Two Melissa Manchester songs are featured in the film as songs used in the talent portion by contestants. Mary lip-syncs "Don't Cry Out Loud", while Janelle sings and signs "Through the Eyes of Love".
The giant cow statue at the beginning of the movie is at Bongards' Creameries in Bongards, Minnesota.
The funeral home and funeral home scenes near the beginning of the movie were filmed at the Wagner Funeral Home in Jordan, Minnesota.
The church funeral scene near the end of the movie was filmed at a church on Highway 212 outside of Cologne.
The mall parking lot that Gladys and the ladies pulled into was not the Mall of America. It was actually Eden Prairie Center in Eden Prairie.
Both the trailer park and the Leeman home are located in Lakeville, Minnesota.
The high school gym was filmed at Wayzata West Middle School in Wayzata, Minnesota.
Downtown Waconia stood in during the parade scene. The Vilmes' hardware store is called Hardware Hank and is also located in Waconia.
The Airport "Ho-Jo" was actually the Midway Marriott Hotel in St. Paul, which has since been torn down and replaced by a Target store. There are, in fact, no Howard Johnson hotels in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area as of today, although there had been at least one Ho-Jo motel located on the 494-Strip area in Bloomington a few miles from the airport as recently as the late 80's.
The hospital scenes were filmed in Farmington, Minnesota.
The furniture store scene was filmed at an actual furniture store that had recently gone out of business in Chaska, Minnesota.
The interviews were filmed at the WFW in Hopkins.
The country airport scene was filmed at Molnau Airpark in Waconia, Minnesota. This is also where they filmed the shooting scenes.
In the original script, Molly Howard's character and family had more scenes, including the father asking his biological daughter to stay out of the picture, tell her that he doesn't care that she's going to college in Japan or dislikes the United States.
By the end of the film, in one of the last scenes, Molly was to be seen boarding a bus marked "Lutheran Orphanage" (suggesting that her adoptive parents rejected her after losing the contest), which is seen in the parking lot of the held-up Food Shack.
Michelle Johnson's part during the "Proud to Be an American" scene was cut as well.
There are also certain scenes shown in the trailer that didn't make it to the final cut of the movie, such as a scene where Colleen and Terry are wondering whether or not one of the contestants has had a "boob job", and scenes when the girls are learning the dances.
Another scene shows a confrontation between Amber and Iris over Amber's missing costume, with Amber telling Iris "This isn't a contest, this is Nazi Germany!" In response, Iris speaks to the 'documentary crew' filming the contest, and says into the camera "Where do they get this stuff?" Actress Mindy Sterling, who played Iris, had just come off from shooting Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, where she played a Nazi-inspired German character.
Allison Janney had also that year starred in 10 Things I Hate About You which featured the song "Can't Take My Eyes Off You". This song was sung by Denise Richards' character during the pageant.
While the setting of Mount Rose, Minnesota is fictitious, the name is actually a play on Rosemount, Minnesota, which is screenwriter Lona Williams' birthplace.