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Take the goofy tone and affection for the characters of Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and plant it right down in the trailer park soil of Southern Georgia, populate the thing with adorably colorful kooks (as played by a roster of gifted performers,) and make sure you don't dumb the thing down or pander to the lowest common denominator - and you might just end up with a movie like Southern Belles. It might have cost 1/10th of what Meet the Fockers did (and it might end up grossing 1/50th of that wretched flick's haul) but Southern Belles is an exceedingly well-crafted, warm-hearted and winning little farce.
Belle (Anna Faris) and Bell (Laura Breckenridge) are a pair of sweet-natured and naive Georgia peaches. One's fighting a dead-end job within the seventh circle of retail hell; the other's battling the advances of a dead-end hayseed boyfriend. But if you think this is a movie that stands on a pedestal while mercilessly mocking the trailer park folks, think again. Southern Belles resides within that surreal comedy world where nobody's ever really nasty - and almost everyone is good for a few big laughs.
More than a little weary of life in their dead-end backwater burg, Belle & Bell hatch a simple enough plan: the gals want to save up enough cash to move to Atlanta, which (in their eyes) is kind of like New York, Oz, and Heaven all rolled into one. The point is that these girls want to break out of the trailer trash routine; they're sweet, decent, and actually quite ambitious ... only they're also quite clueless about how to improve their station in life.
Belle's ready to hit the road immediately, but there's that sticky issue of money (or lack thereof) to deal with, so she hatches a variety of get-rich-quick schemes -- none of which exactly set the financial world on fire. Bell works as a bartender and starts saving her pennies, but she's got her own ties to sever -- namely a blithering bumpkin boyfriend who, frankly, doesn't know how to treat a lady. A new romance pops up to make things even more complicated, and the Belles find their trip delayed numerous times due to a variety of unexpected obstacles.
Beneath the surface Southern Belles celebrates the desire of "little folks" who dream for bigger and better things, but this is a broad and consistently silly little flick, so don't expect too much in the Subtext & Symbolism department. Belles does have more to it than just broad yuks and southern-friend silliness, but the focus of directors Paul Myers & Brennan Shroff is mainly within the laughs department.
Anna Faris delivers a great performance as she creates a character that's wide-eyed and naive -- but never dizzy or outright dumb. After her work in May, Lost in Translation, and the Scary Movie series, Ms. Faris has long since proven that she's one of Hollywood's funniest young females, and she adds another great turn in Southern Belles. Her partner in crime is a lovely young newcomer named Laura Breckenridge, a classically trained stage veteran who's making her leading lady debut here. It only takes about 45 seconds of screen time before one falls in love with L.B., which gives you the next 90-some minutes to enjoy her pitch-perfect performance. On their own, Faris & Breckenridge deliver a lot of great moments; when they're onscreen together, the sweetie-pie chemistry is almost too adorable to bear.
The Belles are supported by a rock-solid supporting ensemble: the drop-dead hilarious Fred Weller is doled out in small doses, which makes his scene-stealing performance all the more amusing. Judah Friedlander gets some great moments as a mouth-breathing retail moron, Justin Chambers plays a local cop who's both dashing and a little dizzy, and crazy kid Zac Gardner brings the house down whenever the Belles are on babysitting duty.
Basically, it's more than OK that Southern Belles is not about "plot" -- because it's packed to the gills with characters you'll grow to love pretty darn quickly. The deep South is poked and probed, yet never savaged or humiliated. Indeed, Southern Belles seems to exist in sort of a trailer park fantasy world, one in which nothing truly unpleasant ever happens and all of the citizens have unexpected pools of wit and wisdom hiding just beneath the surface.
Video: It's a relatively crisp and clean widescreen transger from the Hart/Sharp & Sundance gang.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.
Shattered Dreams: Two Years After Johnson's Mark is a 14-minute mini-mockumentary that visits with some of the flick's characters and checks in with their current station in life.
Also included are a trio of deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and a bunch of trailers for Scotland, PA, Die Mommie Die!, Melvin Goes to Dinner, Seeing Other People, and Childstar.
Southern Belles is funnier than just about 75% of the really expensive Hollywood yukfests, plus it's clearly conceived with just as much heart as goofball irreverence. The fact that it debuts on home video, while stuff like Date Movie hits 3,000 screens, well, it's annoying.
(Portions of this review have been reprinted from my SXSW 2004 Film Festival coverage, which is where I was first introduced to the Belles.)