Unhappy fish worker Carnelle is fed up being a mousy nobody and sees an upcoming beauty pageant as her tickets out of Nowheresville. Her friends and family aren't convinces, but defiant Carnelle embarks on the competitive world of the beauty contest.
Down in Yazoo city, Mississippi the big event of the year is the July 4th Miss Firecracker beauty pageant. Back in 1972 a scruffy little girl looked on while her perfect cousin took first prize. Now it's 1988 and that little girl has grown up to a dead-end job in the catfish factory.
She still has a burning ambition to win the title and "leave this town in a blaze of glory." But while cousin Elain (Steenburgen) was and still is the model Southern belle, Carnelle (Hunter) remains an ugly duckling - hyperactive, scatter-brained, ill-dressed and disastrously coiffed. She prepares for the big day regardless, helped by Popeye (Woodard), whose previous costuming experience is confined to dressing up bullfrogs.
Such quaint and drawling types as Elain's unusual brother Delmount (Robbins) and carnival worker Mac Sam (Glenn) populate this carefully conjured Hicksville, at whose expense the movie pokes gentle if condescending fun. A kind of blue collar Steel Magnolias, Miss Firecracker is winningly dominated by Hunter's disaster zone-performance, which recreates her original off-Broadway role.
Though the familiar theme that beauty is more than skin-deep doesn't come off in this stagey film, her eager antics become almost deliriously pleasing in her big contest party piece. Tap dancing, twirling a rifle and saluting all at the same time to the strains of the The Star Spangled Banner is a nifty piece of self-assured idiocy that fully redeems an otherwise flabby indulgence.
Highly amusing and well paced, an engaging fairy-tale with a slightly sinister underbelly