Killing With Kindness

"People are so nice": Minnesota-raised satirist Lona Williams

LEAVE IT TO a Minnesota girl to unleash her feminist fury and then apologize. Asked to compare her wicked film Drop Dead Gorgeous to American Pie (this summer's pubescent dick flick), executive producer and screenwriter Lona Williams reviles the latter. "So these guys' bet is basically fucking women. That's fucked. It pissed me off. I was pissed." Then she giggles. "But that's just me." As for teen beauty pageants, the target of DDG's outrageous satire, Williams finds them "sad and damaging." "Why the fuck are [the contestants] in evening gowns? I think pageants really fuck you up." And after a beat, "But I hate to get on my high horse about it."

Indeed, throughout our phone conversation, Williams proves so patient and earnest--so nice--that I have to remind myself that this Rosemount native is the force behind the most scabrous teen comedy to emerge since Heathers revolutionized the genre in 1989. While her script unapologetically ridicules small-town sanctimony, bourgeois hypocrisy, mindless patriotism, and insipid religiosity, the woman herself (who has lived in Los Angeles for a decade now) has only polite things to say about her former home state. "I love coming back here. I think it's a really great, solid place to be from. I think people are so nice. There's such a work ethic here. I love that you walk into a store and people are genuinely happy to help you." This unsparing satirist of small-time blowhards and nationalist bigots is similarly sanguine on the state of Minnesota's politics. "I would have loved to have been around for this whole Governor Ventura thing. That would have been super great. My ma sent me his book, which I haven't read yet. And then she also sent me Garrison Keillor's book, which I haven't read yet either."

This incongruity between the amiable things Williams says and the pungent observations you suspect she's holding back does make sense, considering her feminine training as civic spokesgirl. A onetime Minnesota Junior Miss and National pageant runner-up ("like that's how I want to present myself," she groans), young Williams performed a sanitized version of a skit from A Chorus Line for her talent number. "The piece I did, 'Sing,' was like this really risqué song, filled with lines like 'guys comin' in their pants,'" she laughs, "so I had to clean it up."

Using her pageant scholarship to fund two years at the University of Minnesota, Williams expected that she would "work at WCCO or something like that." Credit screenwriting professor Judine Mayerle--"a retired nun or something like that," her student recalls--with Williams's break. "She said if you don't go out there and give it a shot, you'll hate yourself for the rest of your life. And that was the greatest advice. Like, what's the worst that could happen? I come back."

Well, yes. As it turns out, Lona Williams's return after ten years writing for such shows as The Simpsons, Roseanne, and The Drew Carey Show is indeed the worst thing that could happen--at least for local anorexics, pageant sponsors, and pork producers. The rest of us don't have much to fear. Unlike hip misanthropes who tackle suburbia with smug condescension and shock tactics--namely Todd Solondz and Peter Berg, the filmmakers responsible for Happiness and Very Bad Things--Williams can't shake her optimism. "Watching the World Cup, I was so jazzed that young girls will be growing up with these idols of strength, endurance, teamwork, and healthy competition." The Minnesota-girl-made-good might describe the grim pageant judge she plays in Drop Dead Gorgeous as "the angriest woman on earth" and claim "that was easy for me to play"--but then she giggles.

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