'but, miss X – you're beautiful without your glasses' - or, Ugly Ducklings on film

The ‘ugly duckling’ plot in film is rarely convincing, because it usually involves a beautiful actress made up to look unattractive before her supposed transformation, when - surprise surprise - she is revealed to be gorgeous. Some films have managed to portray this better than others.

Muriel’s Wedding - Toni Colette is no great beauty after her metamorphosis, but there is a significant improvement, so IMO it was fairly convincing.

Strictly Ballroom - you just knew she was going to look stunning sooner or later. Ditto for My Big Fat Greek Wedding: the awkward early scenes were just too obviously contrived.

Truth about Cats and Dogs - it took a massive suspension of disbelief to go along with the premise that the Janeanne Garofalo character was unattractive.

On a slightly different tack, when I was a teenager I watched Saturday Night Fever thinking it was an ugly duckling plot, and was a little confused when it dawned on me that Tony was supposed to be attractive all along. :wally

Any other cinematic examples of Ugly Ducklings?

I’ve never found anybody who agrees with me, but I’m sure the ‘look-no-glasses’ moment in She’s All That was a knowing dig at the cliche.

In Let Us Be Gay (!), Norma Shearer played a dowdy wife who glammed up to save her marriage. In the opening scenes, Norma went completely without makeup, pretty daring in 1930—she actually did look very plain and almost ugly.

Good on you, Norma!

In Final Destination Ali Larter is supposed to be the unpopular strange girl in black. Have you seen her? I don’t care how withdraw she is, in high school the whole football team would be worshiping at her feet.

in **Circle of Friends ** (1995), Minnie Driver is supposed to be unattractive at the beginning. Um, huh? If you call that unattractive, then let all whom you find unattractive be mine, MINE MINE!!!

ahem. sorry.

There’s also that great scene with Bogart in the bookshop in THE BIG SLEEP, where she takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, and he says “Hello!” – obviously a joke on the cliche.

Not Another Teen Movie makes fun of this. She’s obviously hideous because she has glasses, wears overalls, and has her hair in a ponytail.

yeah, but she was actually hotter before the transformation…

Well, there’s the old Superman vs Clark Kent. I think Christopher Reeves was more attractive as Clark Kent, personally.

In The Princess Diaries Anne Hathaway goes through the makeover to become a polished-looking young princess. Personally, I also liked her look better.

Personally, I don’t think Janeanne Garofalo is particularly attractive, (neither is Uma Thurman, especially in* The Truth About Cats and Dogs*, IMHO). I liked the Garofalo character because she looks normal. Average.


Talia Shire in “Rocky”.

Toula from My Big Fat Greek Wedding looks much better after her transformation.

When Audrey Meadows first tried to get the part of Alice Kramden on the Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason rejected her; her head shot simply looked too beautiful and glamorous. She had a photographer come to her home first thing in the morning to shoot her before she had put on makeup, then slipped the new photo into the pile in place of her customary head shot. Gleason took one look at the photo and said “THAT’S who I want for Alice!”

I saw Meadows’ original head shot; she was indeed quite a stunner.

Cloe Laine on the soap “Days or our Lives.” Original nickname was “Ghoul Girl.” She goes to the prom in a long black, hooded cloak. Takes it off to reveal a stunning low cut red prom dress, shaks down her hair and takes off her horn rimmed glasses. Instant stunner.

There was a teen comedy where a guy was trying to choose between two girlfriends. One was his best friend; intelligent, funny, good personality, etc. The other was beautiful. But the kicker was that the actress playing the “unattractive” girlfriend was Helen Hunt. Me, I’d be willing to “settle” for a woman whose worst flaw is she’s only as attractive as Helen Hunt.

There’s also been recent movies where Jennifer Connelly and Naomi Watts are supposed to be playing unattractive women (or older movies where Halle Berry, Michelle Pfeiffer, or Ally Sheedy did the same). These characters usually have to deascribe themselves as unattractive so we realize what the movie was trying for. Because just looking at the actresses we’d think they were good looking.

There actually was a Betty Grable movie in the Forties where she’d put on glasses and no one would recognize her—but I’m pretty sure that even back then, that was supposed to be funny.

In Engima, Kate Winslet made her best attempt at playing frumpy. Didn’t quite succeed in looking the part, but acted the role beautifully.

At one point she takes off her glasses to clean them, and her condescending slime of a boss says “Do you know, without your glasses, you don’t look half bad?” At which point she says, completely deadpan, “You know, without my glasses, nor do you?”

Sandra Bullock did this fairly well in Miss Congeniality.

She was HIDEOUS before her transformation. I remember the first time I saw the film, I was taken aback by her because I was literally trying to figure out how the hell they were going to make her look marginally attractive, let alone cute.

They managed though. She’s actually an attractive woman.

Several of these “extreme” makeover shows are giving women LASIK eye surgery so they can get rid of the glasses. (As well as lipo and facelifts and nosejobs…)

In the video for “She Blinded Me With Science,” the old professor dude says to his lovely bespectacled assistant, after she doffs her goggles: “Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you’re beautiful!”