(director: Thomas Schlamme; screenwriter: Beth Henley/based on Beth Henley’s play The Miss Firecracker Contest/; cinematographer: Arthur Albert; editor: Peter C. Frank; music: David Mansfield ; cast: Holly Hunter(Carnelle Scott), Elain (Mary Steenburgen), Alfre Woodard (Popeye Jackson), Scott Glenn(Mac Sam), Tim Robbins (Delmount), Ann Wedgeworth (Miss Blue), Veanne Cox (Tessy Mahoney), Amy Wright (Missy Mahoney), Trey Wilson (Benjamin Drapper), Christine Lahti (Clara Archer), Bert Remsen (Mr. Morton); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Fred Berner; HBO Video/Corsair Pictures; 1989)

off-beat satire that characterizes a bunch of Southern oddballs.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gentle, off-beat satire that characterizes a bunch of Southern oddballs striving for acceptance. It’s based on the 1984 off-Broadway play by the Mississippi-born Beth Henley.

This is the wonderful feature film directing debut of Thomas Schlamme (“So I Married an Axe Murderer”), whose wife Christine Lahti has a cameo. Holly Hunter delightfully reprises her stage role. Carnelle Scott (Holly Hunter) is a catfish-factory worker in Yazoo City, Mississippi, who is known as the town slut. To redeem her sordid past, she becomes obsessed with winning the local annual Miss Firecracker Beauty Pageant and hopes by winning she will earn a ticket out of the dead-end town. Carnelle was orphaned at 8 and was raised with her two outrageous older cousins–the bitchy beauty Elain (Mary Steenburgen), a former Miss Firecracker, who is not in her corner to succeed, and the volatile loony Delmount (Tim Robbins) who was just released from an asylum and roots for Carnelle to succeed. Both cousins return to their ancestral run-down old home for the pageant, where Carnelle still lives. Delmount hopes to sell his late mom’s place while the married Elain, who threatens to leave her rich husband, forgets her woes when the locals treat her as a celebrity. The diminutive bleached red-head Carnelle’s TB stricken sometimes carny lover Mac Sam (Scott Glenn) admires her nerve to take a punch and keep at it. While her most vocal supporter might be the energetic black seamstress Popeye (Alfre Woodard), a wacko who designs her patriotic pageant costume and also attracts Delmount. She claims “He makes my heart hot.”

It’s a funny characterization of family madness, that is well-acted though its characters are veering at times too close to being more cartoon figures than real folks.

REVIEWED ON 8/21/2017 GRADE: B+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/