Miss Firecracker Reviews
The screenplay is an adaptation by Beth Henley-best known for the play Crimes of the Heart- of her own 1984 stage play, The Miss Firecracker Contest. The action takes place in a small Mississippi town over a period of several weeks and focuses on the plain jane Carnelle William's (Holly Hunter) aspirations to win a local beauty contest that her older cousin Elaine Rutledge (Mary Steenburgen) - the town beauty-won years before. Elaine is coming back to town and Carnelle has asked her to bring the red dress she wore the night she won the Miss Firecracker Contest (Carnelle does not have a dress of her own). The story unfolds from there up to the day and night of the actual contest. The ensemble cast is filled out by Carnelle's ne'er do well brother, Delmount (Tim Robbins), Carnelle's new friend (and last minute dress maker) Popeye Jackson (Alfre Woodard) and Carnelle's only beau, the carny Mac Sam (Scott Glenn) who has breezed back into town with the carnival which hosts the annual Miss Firecracker contest. Carnelle is desperate to win the contest this year. She sees it as her only hope of escaping the small town and making her way in the bigger world beyond Mississippi.
Mary Steenburgen's portrayal of the older, vain, "world weary" cousin, though bordering sometimes on camp, is nevertheless a comic delight, Alfre Woodward almost steals the movie with her quirky and awkward Popeye, Robbin's gives a respectable performance as Carnelle's troubled sibling but it is Holly Hunter's tour de force as Carnelle that gives the film its heart. You ache for her as her need to win becomes more frenetic, more chaotic. By the day of the contest, we are rooting for her to win. I won't spoil it but the outcome is so amazing in its simplicity and grace that I find myself in tears every time.
Very few movies establish from the start, a strong sense of place that carries through to the final credits. I felt so at home in the locations of this film (the old victorian home of Carnelle and Delmount's deceased aunt (they are orphans), the town itself, the carnival... that by the end of the movie, I realized the setting of the film was an important character itself.
Carnelle's small Mississippi rural town is a place I now think of as mine. I visit it from time to time to check up on its imperfect, funny and decent residents. I urge you to make a first visit. It won't be your last.