Why ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ Had to ‘Completely’ Redo the Ending
Drop Dead Gorgeous is famous for its dark humor. However, the 1999 movie’s ending was supposed to be even bleaker than it turned out. Why did the filmmakers have to totally redo the last few scenes of the film?
‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ went through several ‘structural changes’ during production — including the title
As BuzzFeed pointed out in a 2014 profile on Drop Dead Gorgeous, the film went through a lot of “structural changes” in its journey to the box office.
For example, the title. The 1999 movie “was originally called Dairy Queens.” But, according to the movie’s screenwriter, Lona Williams, and its director, Michael Patrick Jann, the frozen-treat company Dairy Queen wasn’t happy about that. Dairy Queen even “sued to have the title changed.”
Other changes to film were smaller in scale. BuzzFeed reported:
Subplots, like one involving Jann as a pervy janitor spying on the girls, were cut for time, since he was insistent that the film run just under 90 minutes.
However, the main cause of conflict between the Drop Dead Gorgeous creative team came down to how dark the dark comedy could really get.
“The larger battle — which was primarily waged during post-production — was over the film’s tone, which was decidedly bleak,” the publication noted.
If you’ve seen the film, you’ll remember the how, amidst the goofy characters and jokes about small-town Minnesota, are some heavy moments. Per BuzzFeed:
Contestant Tammy Curry (Brooke Elise Bushman) dies in a fiery thresher accident, Amber’s crush, Brett (Casey Tyler Garven), is shot in the head, and Annette barely survives an explosion after which her badly disfigured hand is fused to a can of beer. And this is all in the first half of the film.
The 1999 movie was really dark and quite violent — but that’s what attracted many of the cast members
As the Drop Dead Gorgeous screenwriter explained to BuzzFeed, the over-exaggerated violence surrounding a small-town beauty pageant is a feature, not a bug, of the movie. It comes from Williams’ personal sense of humor.
“It was really dark. … That’s what’s funny,” she said.
Actor Matt Malloy, who plays the creepy pageant judge in Drop Dead Gorgeous, confirmed the writer’s comedic taste was a über-bleak.
“You can say anything around Lona Williams. She’ll go double dark on you,” Malloy said.
As many of the cast told BuzzFeed, the film’s “pitch-black comedy and gleefully over-the-top violence” was a big reason they liked the script; it was “a selling point.” However, executives higher up the ranks were worried.
“… there were concerns that this darkness would alienate potential audiences,” the publication reported.
As a result of those worries, the movie eventually had to redo its entire closing sequence. As the Drop Dead Gorgeous director Jann explained, the re-shoot “actually occurred as the result of a test screening.”
What the ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ ending was really supposed to look like
What was supposed to happen in the original script? Kirstie Alley’s character Gladys Leeman, the overbearing mother to Denise Richards’ Becky Leeman, closed out the film in a decidedly bleak manner.
“In the original ending, Kirstie actually killed herself in prison,” Jann told BuzzFeed. “In the next scene, there was just her feet swinging in the jail cell, and it went from her feet swinging down to an ashtray with a still lit cigarette.” Then, as BuzzFeed confirmed:
With Gladys dead, the shooting spree at the end of the film was the work of librarian Iona Hildebrandt, herself a Mount Rose American Teen Princess during World War II, who snapped as a result of the bastardization of the pageant.
Jann remembers the viewers’ “visceral reaction.”
“The first time we showed it, as dark as other parts of the movie are, the whole theater went, ‘Ugh,'” Jann shared. “That was too much. That was one step over the line.”
New Line Cinema, who was producing the movie, reacted by encouraging “stronger edits.”
“According to Jann, the studio wanted the movie to look more like Clueless,” the popular movie from 4 years previous, BuzzFeed explained. “It was also a mainstream success, earning $56.6 million domestically.” The Drop Dead Gorgeous director was disappointed.
“It’s too late,” Jann said. “It’s not like that. This is for the girls who went to Clueless and were like, ‘F*ck them.’”
So, Drop Dead Gorgeous went ahead with a slightly less-bleak conclusion. But, luckily for all the cult-movie fans out there, the 1999 film got to keep its overall dark tone.