Smile

Posted on 14. Aug, 2013 by in Catholic Church, Catholic Family Life, Nuns, Priests

Smile is a subtle send-up of beauty pageants, small-town life, and the dubious virtue of “putting on a brave face”. Though this movie’s main focus is not Catholicism or any other religious denomination, it satirizes and encourages questioning of going along to get along and superficial values “of this world”, and contains at least one character who is a self-identified Catholic.
Pageant organizer, Chamber of Commerce booster, and Jaycee’s member, “Big Bob” tries to sway a depressed friend towards his “positive thinking” point of view, and involve him in a quasi-occult ritual which involves the kissing of a stuffed dead chicken’s butt as an initiation ritual to become a member of a harmless and secret-in-name only lodge/fraternal society known as the Order of the Exhausted Rooster. Though he doesn’t want to go along, having become fed up with the Babbitry and banality of small-town, middle-class life and the social scene put forward for that class of people in that time and place; he is persuaded to be there at the ritual, but becomes unhinged when expected to participate as expected.
Big Bob himself, in spite of his jovial boosterism throughout the earlier part of the movie, ends the picture on a mournful note when in spite of all his glad-handing and conscious attempts to connect with the world, it often fails to connect with him. An example of this is the young serviceman he speaks with after the pageant during the clean up. Bob, a veteran of the Korean War, tries to strike up a friendship with him, based on the thing they have in common, both having been in the service. But the young man in uniform never saw more than ceremonial duty, and his peacetime status and the generation gap form a gulf between them where Bob had hoped their shared experience of the military would serve to form a bridge. Though there is much that is good in this world, Bob is bereft, lacking a consciousness and a contact with anything above and beyond it. Though Dark Night of The Soul is not identified by name, it is made apparent that Big Bob experiences this emptiness in his life and aridity of spirit, and his friend perished of it.
Hypocrisy and double standards in society are also touched upon in the parallel plot wherein the pre-teen boys of the town attempt to get prurient peeks at the pageant candidates undressing, and try to produce their own porn with a Polaroid camera, with plans to sell prints to their classmates.
What the adults involved in administering the pageant engage in openly (viewing and assessing the underage female pageant contestants’ outward appearance); is condemned in the boys, one of whom, caught in the act of being a Peeping Tom, ends up getting sent to a psychiatrist as an alternative to jail.

High school girls compete in the fictional Young American Miss beauty pageant in the 1975 movie "Smile"

High school girls compete in the fictional Young American Miss beauty pageant in the 1975 movie "Smile"

One of the judges of the fictional Young American Miss pageant featured in the movie is a (possibly Catholic) priest. He appears in the black shirt and pants and Roman collar. He is present during the questioning of the beauty pageant candidates, including one who had evidently been raised Catholic, played by Joan Prather. (There is at least one other, but the focus in the movie is on her identity as a Mexican-American, the first to compete in that particular pageant, not on her religious affiliation or philosophical beliefs, if any.)
Like all of the other beauty pageant participants, when questioned about her attitude towards the world’s problems and her ambitions in life, she consciously answers “to help people”.

Joann Prather is questioned extensively about her career plans and her moral values.

Joann Prather is questioned extensively about her career plans and her moral values. The priest is seen in black in the third seat on the left.

When asked about her career goals, she articulates two possibilities, one of which was “nun”. When she is asked what she would do if one of her contemporaries became pregnant, specifically where she stood on the abortion issue, and would she vote for abortion to be legal (it wasn’t yet in the US when the script was written, and it was newly legalized when the movie was released), she was less definite.
She claimed to have thought about it and read about it, prayed about it, and discussed it with her mother, and, in the perfect non-answer, had come to the conclusion that she was glad she wasn’t yet old enough to vote.
Later in the movie, when the beauty pageant judges are debating over which girl should be the winner, it is the clergyman who reminds the others of the stated criteria in the pageant publicity materials which cite character and talent, rather than physical attributes.
The Catholic girl, who performs a routine based upon an original essay citing the importance of “inner beauty” gets chosen as fourth runner-up, while an undistinguished but wholesome-looking girl is ultimately crowned as the pageant winner.

Smile ends with a wholesome all-American girl winning the pageant, and Joann Prather, who emphasized "inner beauty", as 4th runner-up.

Smile ends with a wholesome all-American girl winning the pageant, and Joann Prather, who emphasized "inner beauty", as 4th runner-up. Recognize the winner?

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