Grade: B-/C+
Entire family: No
2018, 94 min., Color
Not rated (would be PG-13 for some language and innuendo)
Aspect ratio: 16×9 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

Miss Arizona is an indie film that tries to be quirky (in the indie tradition) while also riding a familiar, mainstream plot.

In her first full-length feature, writer-director Autumn McAlpin gives us a first act that’s a little heavy-handed, almost to the point of being melodramatic. In a series of opening scenes we learn that Rose Raynes (Johanna Braddy) is unhappy with the way her life turned out after she won Miss Arizona 15 years ago. Her business-minded husband has been distant and inattentive for at least 10 years now, and her 10-year-old son has gotten to the point where he seemingly doesn’t need her anymore and no longer gives her the “cuddle time” she needs.

When her husband goes away on a business trip, he asks Rose to make sure she attends a lunch with the other wives at the business so she can keep him posted on the gossip. That lunch leads to Rose being asked to take over as “life coach” at a women’s shelter that the company sponsors. And that’s when prim and proper Rose, who shows up with her sash and crown ready to share the “life skills” she learned—like how to behave in polite society, or how to snag a husband—realizes those aren’t the lessons that women in a shelter need.

Miss Arizona follows the typical fish-out-of-water script for the first half of the film, focusing on culture clash as Rose comes into contact with people who live quite differently from her, including a hard-edged woman who is more than familiar with the world of drugs and pimps, a withdrawn woman hiding from an abusive husband, and a woman whose husband took her children away from her, leaving her with no home and no place to go.

So cheers to Miss Arizona for tackling relevancy, even if it does come in a formulaic package. It doesn’t take Rose long to adjust and focus on what she can do for these women, and it starts with trying to help one of the women get her kids back. And for one crazy night, it will all come together, backed by an all-female soundtrack including P!nk, Lorde, Shania Twain, Donna Summer, MILCK, and Kacey Musgraves.

Though billed as a comedy (and there are a few laughs), Miss America is about female camaraderie and empowerment. While the plot itself is something we’ve seen before (including a series of coincidences that are most unlikely), everything builds to a third-act scene where Rose has to put on her pageant face to win for her new friends.

There’s nothing in this film that would make it a bad choice for family movie night, but Miss America is really the kind of film that’s for teens and their parents. McAlpin was inspired by the Women’s March in 2016, and the messages here are positive. And if you aren’t put off by the accouterments of the worlds in which the shelter women lived—including references to marijuana and prostitution, and a scene at a drag club with the usual drinking and smoking—those positive messages win out. As familiar as Miss Arizona can seem at times, you’ll find yourself cheering for these women.

Language: No f-bombs, but there are a number of lesser swears and expressions like “douchebag” and one unnecessary joke involving Confucius  

Sex: Nothing shown, and just that one allusion to prostitution

Violence: Mild, with one woman slapped and another with a black eye shot at by an abusive husband 

Adult situations: That drag club scene is full of sexual innuendo, drinking, smoking, and catty talk

Takeaway: McAlpin can be proud of this film; it’s a good start to what could be a promising mainstream career