A British comedy portrays feminists protesting the 1970 Miss World contest.

The cheerfully one-dimensional '' Misbehaviour '' put a smiley face on female rage. A comedy flicked with seriousness, it revisits a 1979 feminist protest against the  Miss World pageant in London -

Bright and insistently upbeat, the movie has period polish, some swinging detail and a sympathetic cast headed by Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jessir Buckley.

Like most commercial movies about feminist history, though, it also has a toothless vision of protest and empowerment that's doomed to fail its subject because makers don't [can't risk] making the audience uncomfortable.

Directed by Philippa Lawthorpe, the moview personalizes its story with a manageable handful of characters including Sally Alexander [a fine Knightley], an academic. In short bouncy scenes, she is shown smart as smart and ambitious, loved by her family but thwarted by her sexist colleagues, which leads her to join the nascent women's liberation movement.

Her ostensible opposite is Jennifer Hosten [Mbatha-Raw], a.k.a. Miss Grenada, who arrives amid a sorority of giggling contestants.

Jennifer isn't given much to do say, but Mbatha-Raw makes it clear that  the character has an inner life, with faraway look that a more interesting movie is on the horizon.

The two women are ready-made for dialectical fun but are largely separated on parallel tracks. The movie - the script is by Rebbeca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe - establishes two opposing camps.

One populated by the pageant people, the other by the feminists, including Buckley's Jo Robinson, a live wire. While men linger in the background on Team libbers, they take a prominent role on Team Pageant because the filmmaker seem to think the audience needs reminding that  sexist men can be, well, sexist.

So, rather than deep, revealing looks into the lives of the contestants, there's a lot of the show's host, Bob Hope [an affable Greg Kinnear with a fake schoz].

Lowthorpe spends a wearying amount of time on the comedy of male buffoonery. The marquee clown is Hope, who's introduced in the opening vis parallel montage with Sally, and comes with his aggrieved woman [Lesley Manville, adding bitter tang to Mrs. Hope]

The most cartoonish buffoon, however, is Eric [Rhys Hans], who was with his wife, Julia [Keeley Hawes], runs the contest.

It's mildly amusing to watch Hans swan about in pageant crown and cape when he shows the contestants how to walk onstage. The contenders hee-hee-hee and you might, too, even if there's nothing all that funny about how strenuously the miew tries to soft-pedal sexual exploitation.

The one time that the movie puts on its deeply serious face is when it addresses race, which it navigates with self-conscious awkwardness culminating in a clunkily handled showdown between Sally and Jennifer.

Until then, the issue is largely taken up through Pearl Jansen [Loreece Harrison], the first Black South African contestant.

Pearl has some heartfelt moment, as when she explains the circumstances of her participation to Jennifer.

For her part, Jennifer barely says anything of note until she and Sally meet, an encounter that finds Jennifer delivering a few stinging word about race and representation, having been abruptly transformed into an avatar of feminism.

The World Students Society thanks review author Manohla Dargis.


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