A sweet, good-natured little doc about one woman's return to the small town of her youth, "The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania" opens with actress Sarah Rush driving around Hollywood, discussing how she came out to California when she was a teenager to persue acting. On the 50th anniversary of the Bituminous Coal Queen Pageant in Carmichaels, PA (pop. 556), former winner Rush has been invited back to celebrate the festivities and the camera follows along.
What results is a cute, friendly little portrait of small-town America that's a lot of fun to watch. However, for anyone who's seen the movie "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (about a small-town pageant in Minnesota), it's rather difficult to get the thought of that out of your head while watching this film, as this seems an awful lot like a real, somewhat more low-key version of "Gorgeous".
After Rush returns home, we watch as she tours the town and the current Coal Queen participants practice their routines and chat about the importance of the title, as well as their nerves. Meanwhile, an incredibly irritable sound and lighting technician frets over every aspect of the stage performance and generally acts like a jerk to the contestants and anyone else who gets within range.
The most fascinating part of the tour that Rush and a few other former Coal Queens go on is their stop at the coal mines. She joins the miners as they head down several hundred feet into the darkness. Although the details aren't really explained fully, we get a sense of how the mine operates and gain an appreciation for what these must deal with every day when they arrive at work. During the film's look at the town, we also see a carnival that includes an absolutely bizarre game of what appears to be "mouse roulette" (a mouse sits in a cup in the center of the wheel and then it's spun - whatever number the pissed-off mouse lands on when it stumbles out of the cup in a daze apparently wins.)
"The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania" does show a fine portrait of the small town way of life (and community) that thankfully still exists and an light, occasionally funny portrait of the kind of importance that small towns put on a local pageant. There's some great characters seen throughout the show and that does carry the interest, but it's a little too slight to leave a lasting impression.
VIDEO: The film is presented by Genius Products in 1.33:1 full-frame, which appears to be the film's original aspect ratio. Picture quality is reasonably good, considering the low-budget material. Sharpness and detail were average, as while the picture never appeared hazy or blurry, it did appear consistently a bit soft. Some minor artifacting was also seen on occasion, as well. Colors looked bright and warm, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: Pleasant stereo soundtrack with clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: A 2-1/2 minute "update" on what the participants seen in the movie are currently doing. Cosmetology seems popular.
Final Thoughts: "The Bituminous Coal Queens of Pennsylvania" does show a fine portrait of the small town way of life (and community) that thankfully still exists and an light, occasionally funny portrait of the kind of importance that small towns put on a local pageant. The movie is rather slight, but it's fun while it lasts. The DVD offers little in the way of extras, but reasonably good audio/video quality. Rent it.