Sandra Bullock has a career that reaches back to the 1980s. The beloved actress has done everything from big-budget action films like Speed and Demolition Man to award show darlings like The Blind Side and Gravity. While she has a filmography including nearly 60 films, perhaps her best and most beloved action film is one that involves a…beauty pageant? In 2000, Sandra Bullock signed on to play a rugged FBI agent who reluctantly goes undercover in the Miss United States Pageant to stop a bomber in Miss Congeniality. While she initially regards the pageant and the girls with disdain, or at best, pity, she eventually discovers the depth of the contestants and that she is a beauty queen. If you have been living under a rock for the last 22 years and haven’t enjoyed watching Bullock parody Dustin Hoffman’s “I’m walkin’ here,” you are in luck. The film is now available to stream on Netflix.
Miss Congeniality is the story of FBI Agent Gracie Hart, a rough no-nonsense agent with no sense of feminine charm. She is the kind of agent who spends all of her time, effort, and brainpower on her job, never giving herself any sort of focus. When the FBI receives a tip that the United States Miss America Pageant is under the threat of a bomber, Hart has to go undercover as a contestant in order to get close to the others to protect them. Benjamin Bratt joins Sandra Bullock as her partner, who pokes fun at her difficult transition. Ernie Hudson plays the disapproving but ultimately supportive supervisory agent. William Shatner plays the charismatic and somewhat fatherly pageant host. And, of course, we can’t forget the inspired performance of Michael Caine, who took on the impossible task of turning FBI Agent Grace Hart into the beautiful and graceful Gracie.
While the film was never a critical smash, something about Sandra Bullock strikes the right chord with audiences. It could be her ability to take a script that, in lesser hands, would be a disaster of misogynistic unoriginality and make it a fun and light comedy. Or it could be the talent to take a character who easily could have been utterly unbelievable as a hard-edged FBI agent, a beauty queen, or both, and embody them. Either way, while the critics didn’t see the magic, fans loved it enough to endure decades of quotes and rewatches.
Of course, Sandra Bullock wasn’t alone in bringing this film to the screen. The success of Miss Congeniality may predominantly lay on the shoulders of its lead actress, but it also relies heavily on the rest of the cast. What kind of actor would be able to pull off a love interest that didn’t feel like they only started becoming interested once she put on all the make-up and two-piece swimsuit? Benjamin Bratt gave a strong performance opposite Bullock by being lovable enough to root for but not so much as to steal the screen from his lead. William Shatner is an actor known for the confident and forceful James T. Kirk but took on a whole new role as the host. His ability to seem completely in control of a pageant that literally blew up around him brought an incredible new depth to his career. His dimwitted and seemingly lost persona might have even led him to land a lead role in Boston Legal, where he played a similar character.
Lastly, a discussion about the successful cast of Miss Congeniality wouldn’t work without the acknowledgment of the stellar performance of the always dashing Michael Caine. This film couldn’t happen without a strong performance from the person tasked with turning a rugged mess of a person into someone who could make it to the finals of a beauty pageant. Caine found a way to be a harsh coach and paternal figure for Sandra Bullock’s Gracie Hart as he molded her into a brand new person. And, of course, we can’t help but feel that he wasn’t actually acting. We’re pretty sure that is just who Michael Caine is.
While the premise of Miss Congeniality is almost as ridiculous as her other turns in action films, it brought a charm that was impossible not to love. Could anything be a more absurd premise than a cop cryogenically frozen until his nemesis is set loose on the city in Demolition Man? Sandra Bullock proved multiple times in her career that she had the charisma and range to create a film with an eye-rolling synopsis into the kind of film that two decades later has fans scrambling for the remote to turn it on.