Based on the play of the same name, Miss Firecracker stars Holly Hunter repeating her off-Broadway stage role, along with Mary Steenburgen, Tim Robbins, Alfre Woodward, Scott Glenn, and Ann Wedgeworth.
This film is about a small Southern town and its beauty pageant, which takes place on the 4th of July.
It's not a coincidence that the playwright, Beth Henley, has the pageant held on Independence Day, because that's what the film is really about. Independence from the opinions of others, independence from the ties of what someone has set as a standard of beauty, the independence to explore and find yourself.
Carnelle Scott is a young local woman, and she believes that if she can be Miss Firecracker, she will receive the validation she has always craved, and then leave the town and go onto success elsewhere. She has no friends in town, and her reputation is not the best. She has a boyfriend who adores her (Glenn) but it isn't enough.
One inspiration for her is her cousin, Elain, and there, Carnelle doesn't see the forest for the trees. Elain is a past Miss Firecracker. She's not only totally self-involved, but her life is built around her past victories. To Carnelle, Elain's life is perfect.
Elain's brother is the volatile Delmount (Robbins) who wants to sell the house Carnelle lives in. He'll split the money with her. He was released from a mental institution; Elain and her husband refused to take him in.
Since this is the last year Carnelle is eligible, she decides to go for the pageant in a big way. And one thing she wants is to wear the bright red evening gown that Elain wore when she won; she has even dyed her hair bright red to match it.
Carnelle's major support comes from Popeye Jackson (Woodward), a young woman who wears Coke bottle glasses and works in a dress shop. Popeye helps Carnelle be outfitted for the pageant, and develops a crush on Delmount.
Though the character of Carnelle is the focus of the film, the one to be emulated is Popeye - kind, helpful, and uncaring about people's appearance. She's more interested in what's inside. And hopefully along the way this is what Carnelle learns as well.
Very sweet film and Hunter is dynamite as Carnelle. The movie is bigger than the play, which may not have been the best option for it. The direction by Thomas Schlamme, who has found great success in television, is only so-so. It should be a tighter production.
Don't miss Carnelle's part in the talent competition.