‘Miss Arizona’: Comic melodrama strong in the talent portion but short of perfection

Shelter women enlist the help of a pageant alum in a movie that veers from heavy drama to slapstick, not always smoothly.

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Robyn Lively as one of the residents of a women’s shelter introduces guest speaker and former pageant winner Johanna Braddy in “Miss Arizona.”

Robyn Lively as one of the residents of a women’s shelter introduces guest speaker and former pageant winner Johanna Braddy in “Miss Arizona.”


For every pageant winner such as Vanessa Williams or Gretchen Carlson or Halle Berry or Diane Sawyer who goes on to fame and fortune, there are thousands of others who put the crown on a mantle or in storage and proceed with their lives out of the spotlight.

Rose is in the latter category. She was crowned Miss Arizona 15 years ago, and she’ll trot out the sash and the crown for the occasional inspirational talk — but she’s retired from the circuit and gave up her acting dreams shortly after she married an ambitious, up-and-coming talent agent and had a son.

So how did Rose end up in a drag club late at night, posing as a man posing as a woman in order to win enough to cash to fund an excursion to Kentucky to help a new friend find her children?

That’s the intriguing setup to “Miss Arizona,” a well-made, first-time feature from writer-director Autumn McAlpin.

“Miss Arizona”

Cinedigm presents a film written and directed by Autumn McAlpin. No MPAA rating. Running time: 94 minutes. Now showing at AMC Woodridge and also available on demand.

With earnest, likable performances from Johanna Braddy (“Quantico”) as Rose and the ensemble cast of Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Robyn Lively, Shoniqua Shandai and Otmara Marrero, this is a just-miss, with much to admire but just too many predictable and needlessly over-the-top plot points.

Braddy’s Rose is married to the irredeemable Rick (Kyle Howard), a successful Hollywood agent who literally gets out of bed rude, dismissive and self-centered — taking business calls, prepping for a solo weekend trip to the Tony Awards, treating Rose like a child as he scolds her about money management.

When Rose is asked to be a last-minute fill-in as a motivational speaker for a group of women, she has no idea the “gig” is at a safe-haven home for four women, each who has been through hell.

At first, these tough and cynical and understandably skeptical women are rolling their eyes and openly mocking Rose — especially when they find out she’s a wealthy, stay-at-home mom who seems to have not a care in the world.

Eventually, though, the bonding begins. Rose finds herself accompanying the women on a series of wacky and sometimes dangerous adventures, as an escape from one threat leads to a mission to reunite Robyn Lively’s Leslie with her children, who have essentially been kidnapped and hidden away by her ex.

“Miss Arizona” alternates, not altogether gracefully, from heavy, tear-jerking moments to slapstick comedy, sometimes within the same sequence. Given the nature of the stakes at hand, it’s a little difficult to believe some of the lighter moments would occur in the fashion laid out here.

(There’s also the unfortunately tone-deaf work by Steve Guttenberg as an out-of-nowhere villain who is just vicious for the sake of being vicious.)

And the aforementioned West Hollywood drag club sequence has its moments but goes on FOREVER.

Still, thanks to some well-crafted dialogue and the strong performances, we can’t help but get choked up when the fish-out-of-water Rose finds her footing with the help of her unexpected new friends. Every single one of the women in this film deserves a better life than the one that’s been given to her. And, by leaning on each other, they make those better lives into real possibilities.

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