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  • It's hard to find anything wrong with this film. It was cleverly written and beautifully acted. When you're watching the actors and don't think to yourself, "that's Alfre Woodard, Tim Robbins, Holly Hunter or Mary Steenburgen," then they are doing their job! Being a southerner I could tell immediately that the writer knows what she's doing, too. I loved each and every single character. The scenes move together seamlessly and by the end, you've felt Carnelle's pain, Elaine's dissatisfaction with life, Popeye's endless hope, Delmont's search for peace and Mac Sam's empty existence. Would that I could write and direct a film of this subtle magnitude one day.
  • "Physiognomy": the act of judging people by their physical appearance.

    As in her first film, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart, Beth Henley has created a collection of off-beat Southern Gothic characters. These characters seem familiar like old friends (or more like black-sheep cousins), ut the film goes beyond its representation of these endearing characters to explore deeper themes, to ask whether appearances are really important.

    The Miss Firecracker Contest, is superficially, a comedy about a small town Southern beauty pageant, in which Henley reflects in a sardonic manner on how and why women put themselves through such contests. The pageant, however, merely frames the action. The play is ultimately about appearances. Henley introduces the idea that women shape their identities and bodies in terms of the opinions of other people, and the more important issue of breaking away from stereotypes in order to discover your personality. The beauty pageant is even held on the Fourth of July -- Independence Day.

    All of the women in this play, except Popeye, define themselves in relation to the contest. Staying with Henley's successful formula of an insecure heroine who searches for acceptance from society and her family, The Miss Firecracker Contest is dominated by the beauty queen "wannabe," Carnelle Scott (a role created on stage by then little-known Southern actress Holly Hunter). Carnelle is not merely competing for the crown; she wants to win the contest so that she can win acceptance from the town of Brookhaven, Mississippi, shed her tawdry reputation, and leave the town in a "crimson blaze of glory." Carnelle's own name even expresses her sexual nature -- the derivation of her name, "carnal," means pleasures of a sexual nature.

    Her cousin and idol, Elain, is a self-absorbed former pageant winner -- a Scarlett O'Hara for the twentieth century -- still living off the glory of her youth. Even Tessy Mahoney, one of the two ugliest girls in town, takes pleasure in the authority of the whistle and clipboard she wields as pageant coordinator. Of the women, only Popeye -- with her coke-bottle glasses -- is more concerned with "seeing" than with being seen. An admirer of beauty that transcends physical appearance, she serves as a mirror through which others may see their own self-worth.

    The Miss Firecracker Contest continues Beth Henley's examination of the South -- and especially of small-town Southern women. In pursuing this theme, she is following in the steps of earlier Southern playwrights, such as Lillian Hellman and Tennessee Williams. And like Southern author William Faulkner with his fictitious county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi, Henley appears to be establishing a physical universe and a cast of familiar characters for her canon of plays.
  • A much under-rated movie: both a satire on the sheer awfulness of small-town pageants, and a poignant yet ultimately hopeful romance about talented misfits coming to terms with their nature. A minor criticism is that it suffers from the usual movie cliche: characters who are supposed to be plain - in this case, Holly Hunter and Alfre Woodard - who are the most charismatic people in the movie. Highlight: the amazing dance routine by Hunter. I'm an old cynic, but the ending was both iconoclastic and beautifully feelgood.
  • gracie2829 September 2003
    A hilarious sendup of beauty contests, with a nice wry twist and laugh out loud southern humor. Wacky characters, well casted and good solid acting. Mary Steenburgen is wonderful and Holly Hunter is the best! You may not get if if you are not from the South and if you are "serious" about beauty pageants.
  • I might have enjoyed this movie more had I not already been very familiar with The Miss Firecracker Contest, the award-winning play on which the screenplay is based. The play is as neat and compact as the film is muddled and overblown. I loved the play and was disappointed to see that some of my favorite elements were changed for the film. The play is set in Brookhaven, MS, has a cast of six, and plays like a symphony with recurring themes and a distinct rhythm. The film moves the action to Yazoo City, a somewhat more industrial setting, so it loses some of the "southern charm" of the play. The film shows us the other contestants, the audience members, and various other members of the community. This "carnival atmosphere" distracts us from the core issues of the play, which are Carnelle's relationship with her family and her need to find her place in the world. Although I feel that Alfre Woodard did a stellar job in portraying Popeye Jackson, this role was originally written as a very backwoods white girl. The change to a black character made it impossible to keep the very sweet romance between her and Delmount in the screenplay. In the film, Elaine, played marvelously by Mary Steenburgen, displays a certain mean streak which is absent in the play.

    In conclusion, Miss Firecracker is a very well-acted but overly busy adaptation of a beautifully succinct play about a very eccentric southern family. I recommend the movie for the performances of Holly Hunter, Mary Steenburgen, Tim Robbins, and especially, Alfre Woodard. I also recommend reading or seeing the play to really understand the core characters and their relationships to one another.
  • 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.
  • After my first viewing of this film I came away disappointed, but Holly Hunter's sound performance induced me to watch it again. A second viewing left me with the impression that it was an opportunity lost to produce a first class movie. A poor performance from a star like Tim Robbins, who has played outstanding roles in other movies, leads me to suspect that the fault lies with the director.

    Holly Hunter rose to the occasion to make the film worth while. I would recommend that anyone watching this movie should focus there attention on Holly Hunter's flawless performance and ignore weak moments that occur from time to time elsewhere.

    I would purchase the DVD again and classify it as a "keeper".
  • This film blew me away. It is a gripping tale about a young woman( Hunter) entering a beauty contest without having the looks for it, but enough energy to put all that aside and go for it anyway. Something in her past makes her very determined to try to win the contest. Supporting her efforts are a group of very odd people, among them Glenn, Robbins and Steenburgen, who seem to not want to let on to Hunter that they don't expect her to succeed when she starts out but when they see her on the stage they all, almost anyway, cheer her and become very upset when she ends up fifth runner up. The film is an adapted play and it shows in the limited settings and in some of the dialogue, but overall it is a fine movie. Very warm and entertaining. It is a forgotten gem of a movie in which Hunter shines like a diamond.
  • stoneyburke29 September 2009
    Warning: Spoilers
    I gave it a RAVE review because it is the most positive movie I probably have ever seen. I'm a noir fan and if this is what a feel good movie is then I should at least TRY and seek out more! The cast is/was perfection. The ending was so damn sweet that I'm still shaking my dark head. I cannot fault this little treasure. Where would one start...Holly Hunter was a delight. Tim Robbins is so believable as well as the entire cast. I evidently cannot say enough. If you're ever feeling like spending time with some fine actors, characters and script here ya go! I got to thinking. This is exactly the movie that lightened up my watching experience.
  • Holly Hunter plays Carnelle, a small town girl with average looks who wants to be Miss Firecracker. The title that her older cousin (which she grew up with) already won years ago. Her cousin Elain does not think that this is the best idea, but when Carnelle asks to borrow her red dress she says yes. Even though she's not going to lend her it anyway. Her other cousin Delmount (Tim Robbins) is a bit wierd, but handsome and wanted by most of the towns women. No one really thinks she can make it, but she's got a suprise for all of them... Holly Hunter is perfect for this role, with her cute smile and karisma. Tim Robbins, who has great talent as seen in his later work, does his job as an actor. Nothing more. It's a cute and warming movie. But that's it.
  • What I expected was a humorous satire on beauty pageants. What I got was a bizarre family drama that had little to do with pageants. The first-half dialogue tells us about Carnelle's (Holly Hunter) plans to be in the contest. But the action mostly centers on peripheral family problems involving Carnelle's two cousins, Elain (Mary Steenburgen), a former winner, and Delmount (Tim Robbins), something of a roving cad. Both just happen to arrive back in Carnelle's small town to be characters in the script.

    The second half gets us closer to pageant time. But again, Elain and Delmount dominate the plot so that, for example, as contestants parade on-stage, the camera is on Delmount delivering dialogue tangential to the film's supposed theme on beauty pageants. The one funny moment was a reference, by another character, to bullfrogs that had been dressed in miniature glamorous costumes.

    The story's theme is somewhat clichéd: contestants enter pageants for acceptance and love. That may have been true in times past. But I think in today's competitive world, the real motivation is money or a shot at stardom.

    Visuals are acceptable. Cinematography is competent though conventional. That the film was shot on location in Mississippi adds some realism to the setting. Casting and acting are okay, I guess. Background music trends nondescript and unmemorable.

    This film could have been so much more. I don't know anything about the play upon which the film is based. But I might have enjoyed the movie more if the writers had scrapped the original material and wrote an original story that put the focus on the pageant rather than on a dysfunctional family.
  • Carnelle has lived in Yazoo City, Mississippi in her aunt and uncle's house since she was orphaned as a child. She grew up with her cousins Delmount (Tim Robbins) and Elain (Mary Steenburgen). Delmount comes home from a mental institution and wants to sell the family home. Elain comes home from Atlanta where she has her own problems. Elain won the Miss Firecracker beauty pageant years ago. Carnelle decides to enter the pageant in her last official year with regards to her age. Alfre Woodard played Popeye Wilson, a seamstress, who has a crush on Delmount. The film is rich in character development and this film should be shown around the Fourth of July summertime. Ann Wedgeworth played a pageant coordinator. The film was done in 1989 after an off-Broadway play of the same name. The film is heartwarming about really winning. Carnelle wanted to redeem herself and reputation.
  • gleekout2913 March 2018
    Warning: Spoilers
    I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid. I finally found out on dvd and got to rewatch I love this little gem. Mary Steenburgen is great in this movie as Elain. Alfre Woodard is fantastic as Popeye.
  • paul2001sw-126 February 2006
    The American deep south, and the terminally stupid, are both parodied in 'Miss Firecracker', whose cast includes Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins but which comes across as an amateurish effort. The film attempts a blackly comic tone but is too crassly executed, and in places plain dumb, to succeed on either front; and the central story (set around a beauty contest) is neither interesting or convincing; and it is hard to believe that the setting is supposed to be 1988 (1958 feels more like it - and I know the south is not New York City, but the film plays along with every southern cliché). I have seen more offensive films, and more incoherent ones, but rarely have I had less sense of what a director was trying to achieve.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Hollywood has a morbid obsession with taking acclaimed stage plays centering on Southern eccentrics and shepherding them to the screen with great fanfare. Sometimes the gamble works in spades (Driving Miss Daisy and Steel Magnolias), but most of the time it is a pure disaster.

    Miss Firecracker is a dramedy centering on the woeful Carnelle, a Mississippi sad sack played by Holly Hunter, whose unrealistic dream is to enter and win the Miss Firecracker contest. Because her flighty cousin (Mary Steenburgen) won many years ago and subsequently married well, Carnelle has rationalized that winning will prove to be her ticket out of the sticks, away from her dead end job and onward to glory. With her cousin returning to town to give a speech at the current contest, Carnelle hopes to don her cousin's lucky red dress and cinch the prize. Events are complicated by Carnelle's flirtation with local guy Scott Glenn and the arrival of unbalanced cousin Tim Robbins, who starts a relationship with the timid seamstress Alfre Woodard helping Carnelle.

    I am uncertain what Miss Firecracker played like on the stage, but Miss Firecracker the film is an uneven, tiresome, and charmless mess. Beth Henley (who penned this along with other misfires like Crimes of the Heart) is a taste that I have not acquired. Uncomfortably unfunny when it takes a stab at comedy and woefully lacking when straining for deep insight, Miss Firecracker is the typical, clichéd cornpone idiocy that one expects from depictions of zany Southern characters. God help us all if these depictions are anywhere close to the truth. This is the type of film where the token black character gets saddled with the name Popeye like we are still in the age of the minstrel show - perhaps they still are in Mississippi where this foolishness is set. I couldn't say.

    A huge problem comes from the fact that the central character of Carnelle is pathetic and often strains the nerves. When her big strategy of winning is dying her hair a garish shade of red and garbing herself in her cousin's lucky dress, it is difficult to believe that a talentless boob like Carnelle could qualify for the contest much less potentially win it. Credibility is further thrown to the wind when her idea of a home run is to play a scene as Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind while chomping a carrot - a sequence which makes Carnelle resemble an unholy cross between a drag queen and Bugs Bunny. You have major problems when you not only do not root for your main character to achieve her dreams, but actively dislike her and feel associating with her is killing your brain.

    It surely does not help that Hunter plays Carnelle at a shrill level that registers a 10 on the Richter scale. Hunter, with her godawful Texas twang set to ear-shattering decibels, veers wildly between aggravating and psychosis. If one of her co-stars pushed her out a window to stop the noise, it would have been justifiable homicide. By contrast, Glenn is so laconic that he seems comatose. Steenburgen struts and vamps with such campy abandon, that the discovery of a late act betrayal seems less shocking than it is a foregone conclusion. Robbins and Woodard actually manage some touching and nuanced moments, although the inclusion of the former means we must endure a series of thoroughly tasteless early moments of him shoveling up the rotting carcasses of dogs run down in the road as part of his dead end job.

    There is not an abundance of suspense as to whether Carnelle wins the contest. Henley is well known for her faux bittersweet baloney, so an unsatisfactory conclusion is a given. Truthfully, not only does Carnelle not deserve a win anyway, she should be driven out of town. Then again, most of the people we meet in this Southern fried cesspit should be driven out of town. This is the kind of film where if you have an intent of discouraging anyone from visiting the American South, you should show them this film and advise it is an accurate description of the people you will meet there. Trust me, they will never set foot below the Mason Dixon Line.
  • I saw this film in the cables, in an afternoon-ish forgotten hour and wanted to see it all over again. Holly Hunter is an ex-abandoned child and nowadays a bimbo, who grew up in her aunt's house; Tim Robbins is her traumatized cousin. Being way too short and red-headed she wants to win a beauty contest. Hunter and Robbins are not at their best - it is'nt "The Piano" (Or even "Raising Arizona", where Hunter did another tough southerner), but it's a great film and deserves watching, not only by those actors' fans. A better director would have probably made it another "Raising Arizona"/"Gross Point".
  • Carnelle Scott (Holly Hunter) works at a Mississippi fish plant. Her cousin Elain Rutledge (Mary Steenburgen) is a celebrated former beauty queen who is scheduled to make a speech at the local Miss Firecracker beauty pageant. Despite being too old and too short, Carnelle enters the contest. She gets fired from her job. She gets her friend Popeye Jackson (Alfre Woodard) to make the costume. Elain plans to leave her family in Atlanta. Delmount Williams (Tim Robbins) is tired of his life and returns to confront his sister Elain for leaving him in an insane asylum. Delmount intends to sell the family home where Carnelle lives. Carnelle is desperate to wear Elain's red dress and win first prize.

    I don't know anything about the play. It seems to me that it would be more compelling if Carnelle is younger and more homely. Despite the appealing cast, I find the performances flaky without being funny. The plot meanders around the quirky characters. Thomas Schlamme's directions are mostly indie. It's not until Delmount starts beating up Ronnie Wayne in the second half that it finds its comedic legs. It needs to be sharper as a comedy satire of small town pageants.
  • jrgirones8 May 2001
    Good cast misused in one of the most disappointing films I've seen lately. The story rises up good expectations, but the characters are unpleasant and so the spectator easily switches off. It pretends to be half a comedy, half a moving drama... without really success. Only pintoresque details about local beauty contests save it from disaster. It's a pity.