Photos | BBC Films “MISBEHAVIOUR”
A great cast brings a light touch to the true story of the 1970’s Miss World Pageant and the controversies surrounding it in “Misbehaviour.” Keira Knightley plays Sally Alexander, a young academic in London who finds herself involved in the Women’s Liberation Front when she meets the radical Jo Robinson, played with delight and abandon by Jesse Plemons ( “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”). But the real casting news here is that Greg Kinnear, in a crazy fake nose, plays Bob Hope.
Despite being a story about a “cause,” this film manages to stay off a soapbox. The central silliness of a beauty pageant keeps the mix of serious issues and entertainment just right. Plus, viewers today have enough historical distance to appreciate the dark humor of a line of 15 swimsuit-clad women turning their, er, backs to the television cameras, affording a lengthy viewing and appraisal of all aspects of their qualifications. Also, their measurements are called out after their names, and they are numbered like cattle.
Even if you could easily argue many things have not changed very much at all, you can chuckle at the ludicrous antics and revel in the encroachment of a changing world on an arguably sexist ritual. That argument is explored well in “Misbehaviour,” particularly between women with different views of the pageant. Sally (Knightley) lashes out at her mother when criticized for her “emasculating” attitudes, and when they fight about women’s roles, Sally’s mother, of an older generation, defends herself eloquently. When Sally dismisses the domestic work her mother was consigned to, she wounds deeply the woman who raised her. With a daughter herself, Sally exemplifies the competing demands on the ways to be a female.
“Misbehaviour” gives careful time and attention to key pageant contestants. They are never made ridiculous, even when their circumstances are. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as Miss Grenada, rises serenely above the fray, radiating intelligence in the face of both pageant organizers and pageant protesters. The same cannot be said for Bob Hope. Members of the Women’s Liberation Front, developing some media savvy, decide to enter the pageant as members of the audience, then disrupt from inside rather than just holding signs out front. They chose the key moment of Bob Hope’s silly sexist jokes to flip out, throw stink and flour bombs and generally, magnificently, run amok, leaving the seasoned host rattled and furious. Let the record show no one enjoyed this more than Mrs. Bob Hope.
Plenty of people call Sally, Jo and their pageant protests “killjoys,” but this movie has plenty of joy and lightness in it. I think because the pageant itself is not a life or death situation. Of course, it was symbolic, and it was a huge moment of visibility for a very important movement. But “Misbehaviour” does not subject us to anything horribly grim, and the women in question are simply being liberated from swimsuits and heels. Make no mistake, the film is on their side and so am I, but women who don’t agree with them are given a voice also. I appreciate how they were not pitted against one another.
“Misbehaviour” is a nuanced, well-written slice of very colorful history. Some of the conclusions are a bit on the nose, and Greg Kinnear’s nose is a bit off, but I’m glad I experienced this story. The women’s performances were varied and interesting, and at the end, they show you the real people and where they are today, which I nerdishly love. A historical movie that is fun and easy to enjoy is a rare treat, and “Misbehaviour” is just that.
“Misbehaviour” is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.
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