MISS ARIZONA — Review by Carol Cling

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Sisters are doing it for themselves — on the screen and behind the scenes — in Miss Arizona.

A light-hearted blend of familiar movie formats — including fish-out-of-water comedy, mismatched-buddies romp and all-night odyssey — Miss Arizona doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Which is to its credit, considering the hardly amusing themes it addresses, among them homelessness, fractured families and the ever-growing divide between haves and have-nots.

To say nothing of how tough it can be to find (and define) yourself when everybody else has already done it for you.

That’s the situation Miss Arizona’s title character faces.

Former beauty queen Rose Raynes (Johanna Braddy) leads an outwardly enviable life as the wife of a Hollywood talent agent (Kyle Howard), who hasn’t looked her in the eye since she gave birth to their son. That was 10 years ago — and Rose’s little boy wants nothing more than to declare his independence from his loving mom.

As for Rose’s independence, she’ll get her chance. But not before she’s drafted to offer a life-skills session at a neighborhood women’s shelter.

Rose breaks out her crown and sash, attempting to revive her 15-year-old Miss Arizona presentation: “Making Your Presence a Present.”

Inevitably, the residents — sassy Jasmine (Shoniqua Shandai), desperate Leslie (Robyn Lively), rebellious Maybelle (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) and silent, traumatized Sammy (Otmara Marrero) — decide Rose’s presence would be more valuable behind the wheel of her Cadillac Escalade, piloting them around L.A.

Their adventures lead them to, and through, a variety of raucous environments, including a nightclub where Rose’s pageant expertise proves particularly valuable.

Making a promising feature debut, writer-director Autumn McAlpin maintains a welcome — and crucial — balance between Miss Arizona’s comedy and characters.

As a result, even when the movie threatens to bog down in a swamp of been-there-seen-those antics, McAlpin’s breezy pacing — and her winning cast members — keep Miss Arizona on target.

Some familiar faces turn up in vivid supporting roles, notably Steve Guttenberg as a particularly smarmy colleague of Rose’s husband.

But Miss Arizona’s female-empowerment emphasis extends to the nimble central players, from tough-cookie Wheeler-Nicholson to world-weary Lively.

They’re all exceedingly pleasant company. As is Braddy, who brings an understated, undeniable sense of yearning to Rose, someone who’s lived most of her life hewing to the old beauty-queen rule: sit still and look pretty.

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Carol Cling

Carol Cling served as the Las Vegas Review-Journal's film critic for more than 30 years, reviewing movies and covering movie and TV production in Las Vegas, from Casino to CSI. An honors graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, she also has studied film at the American Film Institute and the BBC