My Fair Lady and Miss Congeniality:

A Relative Study of Two Women

     Regardless of the reason, change is rarely brought about without difficulty. This is never more evident than in the classic 1964 movie My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, in which Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn), seeks to better herself through improving her language skills with the help of Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison). The 2001 movie Miss Congeniality, directed by Donald Petrie and starring Sandra Bullock as FBI Agent Gracie Hart, also focuses on the difficulty of personal change as she is forced to "feminize" herself in the line of duty.

     Eliza and Gracie are in very different environments, with My Fair Lady being set in England in the early 1900s, while Miss Congeniality is set in contemporary American society. The common thread between these two women is the outward change that they undergo, whether willingly or not, and the resulting inner changes that accompany this metamorphosis. These two women--from such different eras of time for women in particular--share several other qualities that make their stories so very similar.

     Both Eliza and Gracie originally come from much rougher backgrounds than they are entering; Eliza hails from the tough streets of London and tomboy Gracie from her work as a FBI agent. In the beginning, neither has the merits of grace, manners, or gentle speech. The most obvious "problem" of both Eliza and Gracie is their complete lack of "feminine style"--leading to rather memorable grooming scenes for both of them. (One might wonder, after Eliza's vehemently-protesting reaction to her first bath, how she might have weathered a "bikini wax" and other modern beauty treatments that Gracie was forced to undergo.) In addition, neither woman has the emotional control and poise that is associated with a ladylike demeanor--during a stressful moment, for instance, Eliza is likely to break out in wailing tears, while Gracie might react with physical violence.

     The "teachers" of Eliza and Gracie are also amazingly alike. While both Henry Higgins and Victor Melling (Michael Caine) are considered the best in their field, they also share personality qualities, such as a relentless need for perfection, a sarcastic belittling approach to their "students," and the amazing ability to count the miraculous achievements of their students as a result of their own efforts--without guilt. A difference between these two movies is that Eliza falls in love with Henry, while Gracie and Victor share only a father-daughter type of camaraderie.

     In short, both Eliza and Gracie are wildly successful in their endeavors--Eliza is a "hit" at the ball; and Gracie completes her assignment, while becoming first runner-up in the Miss United States pageant. But the deeper meaning revolves around the concept of the outward change that each of these women experiences and how that affects their inner selves. As others around them see Eliza and Gracie in a new and different light, they become aware of various aspects of themselves of which they were previously oblivious. Each woman gains tremendously in self-confidence. Eliza becomes more independent and better equipped to mentally spar with Henry Higgins. Gracie becomes less independent--losing much of her brusqueness and being able, for the first time, to open her heart to a loving relationship.

      Considering this basic concept of the story lines of My Fair Lady and Miss Congeniality, one can interpret this message in at least two ways: either one can assume that outward appearance affects self-esteem in life-altering ways, or, if a chick looks really hot--she will get the man in the end!

Melody Enoch

Table of Contents