When a terrorist threat is made to the Miss United States pageant/scholarship program, the FBI must send in one of their undercover agents to find out the truth and stop disaster from occurring. But who can they send? Their list of possibilities is quickly narrowed to a single contender, Gracie Hart (Bullock), who is slender, pretty and fetching in a swimsuit. Now for the snag... she's also a hard-hitting, gun-toting tomboy whose demeanor is about as feminine as Dolph Lundgren.
As events continue, it becomes apparent that disaster may well be nigh, and it's down to Hart to successfully pass as a pageant contestant with the help of beauty pageant coach Victor Melling (Caine), win the trust of the other ladies, and discover who is planning to turn a harmless pageant into a horror movie.
Followed by a 2005 sequel, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.
The first movie contains examples of:
- Ambiguously Gay: Victor Melling (Michael Caine), the man hired to teach Grace etiquette and how to be feminine.Victor Melling: [teaching Gracie how to glide] See? Glide. It's all in the buttocks. Don't I look pretty?Gracie Hart: It takes a very secure man to walk like that.
- And of course played with later on...Victor Melling: He's with me.Eric Matthews: I'm not "with him" with him, you know? It's not like...Victor Melling: Come on, Muffin!
- Of course, he is very eager to get Eric to join Gracie and him for lunch when he first meets him.
- And of course played with later on...
- Ambiguously Jewish: Gracie, since Hart is a fairly common Jewish last name, her natural hair state is a wild mass of dark brown curls, and she occasionally uses Yiddish as a Second Language."Gracie Lou Freebush": Dear Jesus, please forgive me for not praying to you before I had a bite of my bagel and schmear.
- Annoying Laugh: Gracie, who laughs and snorts.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Other hints of attraction and the urgency of the situation aside, Eric's cry of "Gracie!" as she fumbles with the rigged crown is filled with just the right emotion to invoke this trope. Props to Benjamin Bratt!
- Background Halo: Cathy Morningside gets a Background Crown.
- Badass in a Nice Suit: The FBI agents.
- Baby Talk: When Eric (justifiably) balks at helping Gracie finish her self-defense demonstration, Gracie uses baby talk to gather support and encouragement from the crowd, and to shame him into helping her finish. He regrets it later (see below).
- Beautiful All Along: Gracie.
- Beauty Contest: The central premise.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Hart and Matthews, big time. The more refreshing part is that the sexual tension is clearly present before she gets the makeover, which keeps him from being a Satellite Love Interest.
- Betrayal by Inaction: As Gracie frantically tries to plead her case to her superior, she is chewed out and dismissed while her partner stands there silently, never saying a word in her defense. Afterwards, she lashes out at him, who snaps, "Don't look at me like I betrayed you or something". To which she responds, "No, betrayal implies actually doing something. You just stood there."
- Big Eater: Gracie, which is part of why joining the pageant is agony for her. Donuts and pastries are replaced with carrots and celery.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Kathy Morningside is portrayed as antagonistic towards Gracie and defensive when it comes to feminists putting down the Miss United States pageant, but overall she seems to genuinely care for the contestants, what they represent, and how the pageant—- Errr, "Scholarship Program" can benefit the girls. Turns out she's actually a bitter, malicious psychopath who wants to blow up this year's Miss United States winner with a rigged crown as retaliation for getting fired by the tv network.
- Brainless Beauty: Gracie starts the film thinking all beauty-conscious women are this. She's later proven wrong.
- Brainy Brunette: Gracie, through and through.
- Brick Joke: During the pageant when Gracie is trying to get at Cheryl, she punches Mary Jo in the face. In the finale, Mary Jo can be seen wearing a band-aid on her nose.
- The Cast Showoff: An in-universe example. When Gracie is stuck without a talent before the show, she decides to improv and show her FBI combat training instead.
- Chekhov's Gun: When Gracie first arrives at the pageant a woman in the background is wearing the outfit Gracie ends up wearing for her talent performances. Presumably Gracie and Victor borrowed the outfit as there was no other costume for her to wear.
- Chekhov's Skill:
- Gracie idly plays a note on her water glass during her first meeting with Victor. She eventually uses water glass playing as her talent for the pageant.
- In the prologue young Gracie steps on a bully's foot and hits him in the face. These are two of the points, along with solar plexus and groin, that she uses in her self-defense demonstration during the grand final.
- Cute Clumsy Girl: Gracie, even before they put her in something other than sneakers.
- Deadpan Snarker: Gracie and Eric and Victor.
- Dirty Harriet: A variant. Even invoked by Melling.Victor Melling: They've got their Southern Belles, their Midwestern farmer's daughters, spunky Western cowgirls, and I have... Dirty Harriet.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Gracie's desperate to save Cheryl by yanking the rigged crown off her head makes her look like an insanely jealous losing contestant.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Victor does this when Gracie tries to point out that the crown is rigged:Gracie: It's the crown!
Victor: Yes, it is! You can taste it now, can't you?
[Gracie is taken to the stage, wildly pointing at her head while she protests about the crown, while Victor cheers her on]
Victor: Yes, yes. You wear the crown, be the crown, you are the crown!
- Drunk on Milk: One of the first scenes shows Gracie at a bar ordering "a pint" and the bartender asking if she's sure. He hands her a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.Eric: You're starting early today.
Gracie: Yeah, I figure I'm gonna get chip-faced.
- Embarrassing Nickname: When Eric creates her cover ID, he gives her the name "Gracie Lou Freebush," a name she made fun of earlier in the movie and that she absolutely loathes.
- Extended Disarming: Gracie can hide an amazing number of weapons (and donuts) in her pageant gown.Victor: What? No armored car?
Gracie: That would be in my other dress.
- Fair Cop: Gracie Hart. Although she starts as a mess of a woman, her looks are a plot point, since she's the best candidate to go undercover at a beauty pageant despite her unladylike demeanor.
- Faint in Shock: As soon as Cheryl sees that the crown was a bomb, she faints in Gracie's arms (who discovers she's heavier than expected...).
- Freudian Slip: After one of the losing contestants in the pageant suddenly comes out as being a lesbian as she walks off the stage, Stan Fields accidentally makes one."And we'll be right back with our five final lesbians. —Interviews!"
- Frozen Dinner of Loneliness: Gracie prepares herself a frozen dinner after arriving back at her flat, in which she lives alone. Her rough behavior pushing people away is a major theme and plot point of the film.
- Fun with Acronyms: Gracie demonstrates a well-known self-defense mnemonic:Gracie Hart: (on defending against an attack from the rear) Just remember to SING: Solar plexus! Instep! Nose! Groin!
- And this meets Lucky Translation in some Spanish versions: ¡ Plexo solar! ¡Empeine! ¡Nariz! ¡Entrepierna!
- Genius Ditz: Cheryl, in spite of appearing very dumb and inane, is actually a physics major!
- Glad I Thought of It: Eric pretty much steals all of Grace's ideas on how to handle the Miss America case, then congratulates himself for having thought of it.
- Groin Attack: The "G" in Gracie's impromptu "SING" self-defense course.
- Guns in Church:Gracie: He had a gun!
Cathy: This is Texas. Everybody has a gun. My florist has a gun!
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Cheryl. She's the first person to show kindness to and befriend Gracie, and has gold, shoulder length hair.
- Help Mistaken for Attack: Gracie's trying to get the crown off Cheryl's head to save her life, but everyone assumes she's an insanely jealous loser trying to steal it.
- Hidden Depths: The Miss America finalists, probably intentionally. Far from the air-headed bimbos Grace originally thought they'd be, they're revealed to all be very intelligent, accomplished women in their own right. For instance, Miss New York plays the clarinet, Miss California is a music major who sings opera, Miss Texas does charity work for children, Miss Rhode Island is a science major with a minor in particle physics, etc.
- Hidden Wire: Gracie wears one of these, unless she's just had an argument with someone at the FBI.
- Hotter and Sexier: With an extra pun for a bonus. When he see Cheryl's baton twirling at the preliminaries at the Alamo, she does a very innocent routine to patriotic music with a very conservative outfit. Later on, after Gracie encourages her to be more confident in herself, she does a much sexier routine to hip-hop music (with batons on fire, hence the "hotter.")
- Improbable Age: Miss USA contestants have to be between 18 and 27. Sandra Bullock was 35 when the first film was made (an in-universe case of Dawson Casting, since Gracie mentions in an off-hand remark that she's at least thirty, but the FBI are still trying to pass her off as being in her twenties).
- While they tried to explain Bullock's age as her being the best they can find, a few other girls were too old as well. Heather Burns (Rhode Island) and Deirdre Quinn (Texas) were all right, being 25 and 27, respectively, but Wendy Raquel Robinson (California) and Melissa De Sousa (New York) were both 33.
- Innocently Insensitive: Gracie makes fun of baton twirling as a talent, right before asking Cheryl what her talent is. Cue "kicked puppy" look from Cheryl, and "I could just kick myself" look from Gracie.
- Insistent Terminology: Ms. Morningside would like you to know that the Miss America contest is not a beauty pageant; it is a scholarship program.
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Mentioned as the one time one of Victor's girls didn't win the crown during his heyday:"The year we lost, the winner was a deaf-mute. You can't beat that."
- Ironic Echo: "It is not a beauty pageant — it is a scholarship program!"
[rolls eyes] Yeah, yeah.
- Ironic Name: Gracie is usually a nickname of "Grace," which is ironic since she's not really gracious (def. "Courteous, kind, and pleasant") or graceful (def. "Having or showing grace or elegance")
- Like a Daughter to Me: Vic says that if he had a daughter, she'd be like Gracie. Of course, he backpedals and says that's the reason why he doesn't have children.
- Lipstick Lesbian: Miss New York, who is beautiful, feminine, graceful and in love with another woman.Karen: I just want all the lesbians out there to know if I can make it to the Top 10 so can you! Tina! Tina baby I love you!
Tina: (in the audience) I love you Karen!
- Lovable Alpha Bitch: Miss Texas certainly wants to win and looks shocked and furious when she doesn't — but she still helps Gracie out and is nice to the other girls. She also tries to intervene in what she thinks are Gracie's crazed attempts at taking the crown from Cheryl, not realizing that Gracie is trying to save Cheryl's life.
- The Makeover: When Grace is transformed into "Gracie" for the pageant, with the assistance of a team of Makeover Fairies.
- Meaningful Echo: "I really do want World Peace".
- A Minor Kidroduction: We're introduced to Gracie when she's reading a Nancy Drew book in elementary school. She defends a boy she has a crush on from bullies, but when he calls her a loser for making it look like he needs a girl to protect him, she punches him in the face and calls him a wimp when he runs away.
- Mr. Fanservice: Word of God says that the scene with Benjamin Bratt at the pool was strictly Fanservice.
- Ms. Fanservice: In a movie whose general premise requires casting several dozen of the most gorgeous women you can find? Where most scenes take place backstage where the girls are only half dressed in silk robes? Where several scenes are a literal parade of women in swimsuits? You're kidding!
- Never Heard That One Before: A sleazy pageant assistant is reading off the names of the contestants. When he gets to Miss Washington, he comments, "Nice apples". Which Washington State is known for, but he's clearly referring to either her breasts or buttocks. Her reaction makes it quite clear this isn't the first time she's heard something like this.Miss Washington: Original. You come up with that all by yourself?
- Never My Fault: At the end, when Morningside's murder attempt is exposed and she is arrested by Gracie, she blames everyone and everything but herself.Morningside: [to Gracie] You think you saved something tonight, but all you did was to destroy the dream of young women all over this country!
Gracie: What, you think that their dream is to get blown up?
- No Guy Wants an Amazon: When Grace was little, she was harshly rejected by a boy she liked because she beat up a couple of bullies.
- Not So Above It All: Gracie illicitly brings in pizza, and all of the contestants chow down because they enjoy indulging like anyone else.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Most of the girls come across as the stereotypes Gracie associates with pageants, but for the most part this is because the girls are all very well-trained in saying exactly the right things to get them the points needed to win, even if makes them seem brainless. Cheryl, who spends most of the film appearing to be a sweet and gentle Dumb Blonde, turns out to be a nuclear physicist.
- One of the Boys: Grace Hart, before joining the Miss America pageant.Grace: Is this like a woman thing?
Eric: Don't kid yourself. No one thinks of you that way.
- Painful Body Waxing: At one point during Gracie's makeover we see wax strips being ripped off as she yelps. Then the scene cuts away to Matthews and Victor, who hear her scream from offscreen and then see her limp out from behind a screen. Vic turns to Matthews and another agent and says "bikini wax". Matthews and the other agent wince in sympathy.
- Parallel Porn Titles: Gracie notes that the original Miss New Jersey would have had to drop out of the pageant anyway as she'd starred in a porn movie called "Arma-get-it-on" before competing.Stan: That was her?
- Power Walk: In both films. The first is the reveal, where we see She Cleans Up Nicely. In the sequel, Gracie and her partner/bodyguard have one when they put on their dark suits.
- Precision F-Strike: A loose wire getting reconnected resulted in Gracie getting a painful blast of feedback in her ear. When she screams out "Jesus Christ!" the other contestants are horrified. She eventually turns it around by saying she forgot to pray before eating breakfast.
- Protagonist Title: Gracie is the one awarded with Ms. Congeniality in the end.
- Rape as Backstory: Cheryl was sexually assaulted by one of her college professors and never told anyone until she drunkenly confides in Gracie during a night out. Played with in that Cheryl doesn't exhibit any of the usual angst issues associated with the trope.
- Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Deconstructed. Grace spends the first half of the film thinking all women should downplay their femininity and be tough like men in order to be intelligent and respected, and assumes all beauty-conscious women are shallow airheads. During her time undercover in Miss America, she comes to see that most of the girls are incredibly intelligent, talented, well-rounded people with dreams and hobbies outside of looking pretty. (The pageant is, after all, a scholarship program, and many of the women use beauty as a means to gain that scholarship to move onto brighter tides.) She also comes to realize it's okay for her to wear dresses occasionally too, since doing so doesn't automatically subtract from her own toughness or savvy.
- Recitation Handclasp: As part of Miss California's opera stuff.
- Right Behind Me: Eric's boss, a Scary Black Man, doesn't appreciate being Photoshopped into a bikini.Eric Matthews: We were just looking for someone to go undercover at the Pageant, sir.
McDonald: And I'm the best we got. That doesn't inspire much confidence.
- Rule of Pool: After assuring her that she can handle the contest Eric pulls Gracie into the swimming pool with him. Gracie tells him that Victor's going to kill him for ruining her evening gown.
- Running Gag: "You think I'm goooorgeous, you want to kissss me..."
- Second Place Is for Winners: Gracie in the end of the film.
- Serial Killings, Specific Target: This is the Big Bad's plan to get away with murdering the winner of the "Miss United States" beauty pageant: they set the whole thing up to look like it was committed by a notorious serial killer calling themselves "The Citizen". Backfires when "The Citizen" is captured by the FBI partway through the film, leaving the villains with nobody to pin their crime on.
- Share the Male Pain: The entire audience groans and folds up a little when Eric gets hit with the G of Gracie's self-defense course.
- Gender flipped when two male agents wince sympathetically after hearing about Gracie's bikini wax.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Gracie.
- Shout-Out: "I'm glidin' here!"
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Kathy is being led to a squad car by Gracie, she tries arguing that she did nothing wrong and that she helped Gracie become a lady. Gracie in turn rebukes her statements by saying that Victor did all the work and no girl wants to be blown up as she forces Kathy in the car.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Gracie and Matthews, quite literally. They engage in physical combat twice.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Gracie and Victor, as best summed up by this:Victor: In place of friends and relationships, you have sarcasm and a gun!
Gracie: Oh, I have sarcasm? When every word that comes out of your mouth is dripping with disdain?
- Sneaking Snacks: Gracie is found sneaking donuts underneath her dress by her beauty pageant trainer.
- Spanner in the Works: Ms. Texas and her penchant for gossip are the only reasons that Hart finds out that Morningside is being fired and has a violent temper, both of which help solve the case.
- Spoiler Title: Gee, I wonder who would win the Miss Congeniality special award?
- Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Eric, to match with Gracie.
- Tomboy: Gracie.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Gracie and every other contestant, except probably for Miss New York.
- Triumphant Reprise: Tom Jones's "She's a Lady" first plays as Gracie arrives with the pageant girls (in a bit of irony). It gets played again at the end when Gracie gets the Miss Congeniality award.
- True Love Is Exceptional: Eric is implied to mostly date younger brainless beauties, yet ends up with the older, cynical, tomboy Gracie.
- Undercover Model: Gracie at the pageant. She provides both the page quote and the trope image.
- Ungrateful Bastard: As a kid, Gracie defended a boy she liked from bullies, only to be insulted by him because he didn't want everyone to think he needed a girl to stand up for him. She responded by punching him in the nose.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Gracie and Matthews. They constantly quarrel with each other throughout the movie, but they make it clear that they are attracted to each other. However, the movie never confirms if they get together by the end or not.
- Weaponized Headgear: The Miss United States crown was rigged with explosives that Cathy Morningside intended to detonate as soon as it was handed off to the winner of the pageant.
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: In the movie, Miss Rhode Island's baton twirling talent is treated this way. But during the talent scene at the Alamo, one girl's talent seemed to be making balloon animals.
- You, Get Me Coffee: Mocked.
- Your Head Asplode: The rigged crown was supposed to do this to the winner of the pageant. Fortunately, Gracie is able to get it away from Cheryl before it does her any harm.
The second movie contains examples of:
- Ambiguously Gay: One of the agents that work with Gracie. He enjoys cross-dressing as a dancer at a gay bar.
- Based on a Great Big Lie: After hearing criticism about her autobiography, Gracie reveals it was spiced up by a particularly melodramatic writer, who even wanted to change the conditions of her mother's death while in service of the FBI.
- Be Yourself: The movie is all about Gracie discovering that after her Chickification, getting back her groove and acting as a ruthless FBI agent instead of a proper lady is refreshing, and ultimately she decides to give this lesson to a schoolgirl who idolized her, even reverting the girl's hair back to the eye-covering bangs she wore before.
- Camp Gay: One of the suspects Gracie and Sam look for is a drag queen resembling Dolly Patron. Several of the drag queens in the bar are this too.
- Chickification: A major plot point. A result of her Becoming the Mask after the first movie. Even after the real story comes out and Gracie becomes the face of the FBI, the girly-girl persona sticks.
- Extremely Short Timespan: While not an Immediate Sequel per se, the movie still takes place during Cheryl's one year reign as Miss United States.
- Hostage Video: Cheryl and Stan deliver two to state their kidnappers' purposes - while shooting the first, Cheryl struggles to learn the lines. In the second, she sneaks a clue to Grace (see Out-of-Character Alert).
- The Gambling Addict: The kidnapping happened because Stan is one of these, and Cheryl just happened to be in the wrong place as the loansharks arrived.
- Gender-Blender Name: Sam(antha) Fuller.
- Gender Scoff: Samantha subverts the usual "Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." phrase:Sam: Men! Can't live with them, can't—no, actually that's about it.
- I Take Offense to That Last One!: Inverted:Sam Fuller: You didn't just call me sister, because I don't recall seeing a skinny, white-ass girl growing up at the table.
Gracie Hart: Okay, first of all... thank you for calling me skinny.
- Mistaken for an Imposter: While investigating the abduction, Gracie is told there's a Dolly Parton impersonator involved. Unfortunately, the real Dolly Parton shows up to announce a world-wide tour and Gracie chases her.
- Out-of-Character Alert: Gracie discovers Cheryl and Stan are put to be drowned in a hotel's pirate ship because Cheryl says in a Hostage Video "my booty is in the line".Gracie Hart: Cheryl would never refer to her ass as her booty! Cheryl would never refer to her ass, period! She calls it her "popo"!
- Overt Operative: As Gracie learns while trying to catch bank robbers, the fame she acquired from the pageant makes it hard for her to do secret agent work without being recognized.
- Playing Gertrude: Eileen Brennan, who plays Stan Fields' mom, was actually a year younger than William Shatner.
- Power Walk: Gracie and Sam get one after reverting to their grey FBI suits.
- Recursive Crossdressing: Sam and Gracie go undercover dressed as drag queens looking like Tina Turner and a masquerade dancer named Coco. Sam Fuller's head almost explodes at the prospect of going undercover as a Drag Queen:Sam Fuller: I am not going out there as a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be Tina Turner. I can't afford therapy on my salary.
- Recycled Soundtrack: During the scene where Sam and Gracie rescue Cheryl and Stan, you can hear "Building the Crate" and "The Chickens Are Revolting" from Chicken Run in the background.
- In fact, this movie is one of the all-time great cases of Recycled Soundtrack, as the film is packed with cues from other movies (including two other Sandra Bullock movies, Two Weeks Notice and the first Miss Congeniality). This does have some original music (by John Van Tongeren, Christophe Beck and Randy Edelman), but apparently not much.
- Sassy Black Woman: Sam Fuller.
- Showgirl Skirt: Gracie's showgirl outfit has one.
- They Do: Happens only to be subverted, as Gracie did get with Matthews, and then he breaks up with her with a one-sided conversation and transfers himself to Miami.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Sam and Gracie. Though the latter rediscovers some of her unlady-like behavior.
- 20 Minutes into the Past: As noted above, the movie is set during the year after the original movie — despite being made actually five years later.
- Video Credits: Aside from Sandra Bullock (justifiable), all the other actors are accompanied by clips in their credits.
- Viva Las Vegas!: The major setting. There's even Sam being forced to perform as Tina Turner.