We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

What a dizzying array of choices confronts today’s woman! She can be a beauty queen. Or she can be a mom. Or she can even…well, you’ll have to sit through the tedious, wildly retro Beautiful to discover the third way available to the modern gal. The gal in question is love-starved, beauty-pageant-obsessed Mona (Minnie Driver), who begins scheming her way toward the Miss American Miss contest before she hits puberty. Her trailer-trash ma doesn’t support her dreams, but she does find a full-time booster in mousy schoolmate Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams), an inspired seamstress who later makes the ultimate contribution to Mona’s campaign: She agrees to pose as the mother of Mona’s daughter, Vanessa (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), so that the aspiring Miss American Miss can pretend to meet the pageant’s requirement that its contestants not be biological parents or legal guardians. As if that weren’t sufficiently contrived, Ruby is then sent to jail on charges that she helped an elderly woman commit suicide, and Mona is left to look after her 7-year-old “niece,” Vanessa, as the countdown to the pageant begins. Mona takes Vanessa with her to the big show, and the two begin reluctantly to bond. Mona is still the fierce competitor who left one of her previous rivals physically scarred, but as the pageant begins, she’s begun to wonder if there’s any greater honor than being Vanessa’s mom. Director Sally Field (who’s been publicizing the flick by telling interviewers that she never felt beautiful enough for Hollywood) compounds the drudgery of Jon Bernstein’s script by taking her time setting up the premise and dawdling over the pageant itself, apparently so Driver can offer a wannabe-sultry rendition of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” When things finally begin to happen, a flustered judge opines that “we must evolve”—a suitably ironic comment on a movie whose view of contemporary women’s aspirations is approximately Jurassic. —Mark Jenkins