Miss is simply glorious. It is a French mainstream comedy-drama about a young person’s quest to win the Miss France beauty pageant. It does everything right. It finds comedy in characters and situations and not in mocking identities. It carries an upbeat and accepting tone but acknowledges real-world prejudices. Most of all it casts appropriately, presenting a superb and hugely charismatic queer actor in its central role. This is superb, heartfelt cinema.
Alex (Alexandre Wetter) grew up with one ambition – to be crowned Miss France. Having abandoned their dream after their parents’ deaths, Alex now lives in a share house of colourful eccentrics and works as a cleaner in a local boxing gymnasium. When they reconnect with a childhood friend, who has gone on to a successful boxing career, Alex’s dream is rekindled and with the aid of their housemates disguises theirself as a cisgender woman and enters the pageant.
The first and key master stroke of Ruben Alves’ Miss is in the casting of Alex. By casting genderqueer model and actor Alexandre Wetter, Alves’ film gains an immediate authenticity that simply could not be equalled by a cisgender actor taking the part. There is a reason why I labour in my reviews on the need for authentic casting. No one plays a person of colour better than a person of colour; no one represents disability more effectively than the disabled; no one can play a queer character better than a queer actor. To do otherwise when the world is filled with minority actors of all types desperate for work is simply a repugnant act and shooting one’s one film in the foot. It frustrates me when I am forced to condemn a movie for doing this wrong. It is absolutely delightful when, like here, I can praise and recommend a film for doing it right. Wetter’s performance here is absolutely superb. It is the centre of the film, and is essentially flawless.
That Alex’s target for self-realisation is a patriarchal nightmare of women’s bodies and the male gaze is not lost on the film. Instead it actively interrogates that paradox, with characters mounting opinions on either side. Expressions of male power fill the film’s margins; it is in the friend who tries to kiss Alex when they present as female and then call them derogatory names when rejected, and the male pageant boss who takes credit for all of his female employee’s ideas. It is in Alex’s housemates, which include a cross-dressing sex worker, an elderly woman still living under the shadow of a bad romance, and a small sweat-shop of Indian women at their sewing machines.
These are all details. Draped over these elements is a very commercial and heartfelt story about following one’s dreams. There is a lot of well-placed and performed comedy that is warm and never hurtful. It is a film that always punches up, and constantly backs the underdog. This is the Rocky of beauty pageant comedies.
Miss is screening at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival this month around Australia. Click here for more information.