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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Be Good, Smile Pretty
Be Good, Smile Pretty
Docurama // Unrated // January 27, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 31, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Program

At the very beginning of Be Good, Smile Pretty we learn that 20,000 Americans lost their fathers in the Vietnam War, a somber statistic that haunts this documentary. A co-production of the Orphans of War Foundation and Kansas City Public Television, Be Good, Smile Pretty is a heart-rendering journey of Tracy Droz Tragos, a woman who lost a father she never knew in Vietnam . While surfing the Internet one day, Tracy did a search for her father's name and uncovered a detailed account of his death at the Mekong Delta. Realizing that she wanted to discover more about her father, Tracy  embarked on a journey of discovery to find out more about the man who was Lt. Donald Glenn Droz, how he died and, most importantly, how he lived.

Be Good, Smile Pretty makes use of home movies, photographs, letters, and hours of newly-taped footage to accompany Tracy on her journey. We see numerous interviews with her mother, uncle, grandmother, cousins, and other family members as she learns more about her father. In one particular emotionally brutal segment, Tracy asks her cousin to describe what it was like having to go up to Kansas City and identify her father's body.

Tracy 's quest takes her on a tour throughout the United States . She goes to Washington to speak with Senator (and current Presidential candidate) John Kerry, who served in Vietnam and was good friends with Lt. Droz. She goes to the Naval Academy in Annapolis and meets his room- and class-mates. In Selma Alabama and Naperville, Illinois , she meets up with her father's friends and buddies from Vietnam . In Unionville, Connecticut , she finally encounteres Peter Upton, the man who wrote the article she found on the Internet which started her search. Each person she meets adds another piece to the tapestry of her father's life, and when she meets Upton the story of her father's death is told at last, utilizing first person accounts, radio traffic from the ambush, and stock footage from Vietnam. It's a powerful, devastating scene that had me riveted from start to finish.

Be Good, Smile Pretty is about Tracy's search, but it's also about coming to terms with grief, loss, and mourning. A segment of the film deals with Tracy's discussing grief and mourning with her mother in a rather charged debate; it's clear that their emotions, while overlapping in their commonality, are coming from different angles. Her mother lost someone she knew and loved; Tracy grew up with a glaring absence in her life. In the end, Be Good, Smile Pretty is not so much about death but learning how to go on with life. It's not an easy program to watch, but it remains a riveting piece of work.

The DVD

Video:

Be Good, Smile Pretty is presented in widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing affection. The videotaped presentation is extremely pleasant, with rich vibrant colors and strong contrasts. Sharpness levels seem a tad soft at times, and there are some occasions of video noise, but the transfer is generally clean and well-represented.

Audio:

The audio is presented in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0, and is quite appropriately handled for this documentary. The dialog is presented clearly and reasonably without distortion, hiss, or hollow elements. The orchestrations are subtle and effective without overpowering the dialog. This is a quiet, tender movie and the audio presentation is not only quite suitable but very tasteful.

Extras:

Extended Interviews is divided into two sections: the first, "The Children", features over twenty minutes of interviews featuring six people who lost their fathers in Vietnam. The second, "Vietnam Veterans", contains nearly sixteen minutes of interviews with veterans of that conflict. Photo Gallery contains fourteen photographs of Don Droz in Vietnam, the Droz family, and Tracy Droz Tragos. Filmmaker Statement is a short text piece in which writer/director/producer Tracy Tragos explains why she set out on this journey, and what she hopes to accomplish with this project. Crew Biographies contains background information on the director, executive producer, co-producer, director of photography, and editor. Resource Guide contains links and contact information for the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Doughy Center, Gold Star Wives, Sons and Daughters in Touch, Swift Boat Sailors Association, Swords to Plowshares, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and a variety of other organizations. About Docudrama provides some short text passages about the company that released this DVD. Catalog/Trailers contains a list of DVDs that Docudrama has released, as well as trailers for some of these releases. Finally Credits contains the DVD production credits.

Final Thoughts

Be Good, Smile Pretty is an affecting feature that creates a powerful meditation on real grief and loss that few films ever come close to eliciting. Although the feature runs less than an hour, the emotional reaction that it evokes is palpable and very real. If you've ever experienced the pain of losing a loved one, many of the reactions experienced here are familiar. Tracey Droz Tragos's experience adds another dimension to the proceedings: she struggles to learn about the father she never knew in the shadow of a large family that knew and loved him, and had to lose him at such a young age. I recommend this DVD wholeheartedly; the film is remarkably powerful and heartbreaking, but it leads to a message of healing and the ability to move forward in life.

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