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UNUSUAL PAIRING OF RHINESTONES AND FUR.

Byline: David Kronke Television Critic

`Muskrat Lovely'' is a wonderful celebration of what seems in this age of ubiquitous outlet malls a dying scene: regional character.

Filmmaker Amy Nicholson's documentary tells the story of the Dorchester County, Md., Outdoors Show, which combines two utterly disparate competitions -- a muskrat-skinning contest and a beauty pageant among local high-school students, crowning ``Miss Outdoors.''

Nicholson clearly became close with the people of Dorchester County, who revealed to her their hearts and secrets, their aspirations and eccentricities.

Her film opens with regular guys from the community - presumably competing muskrat-skinners - good-naturedly reading beauty-pageant rules: Don't wear tight, backless dresses, girls are warned; ``They call attention to a chubby back.''

(Too bad Nicholson didn't get pageant participants to read muskrat-skinning rules; that'd be worth at least an extra half-star.)

Nonetheless, one participant explains that, when skinning muskrats, ``It's important to keep the eyes left in the hides'' because they'll be penalized for leaving the eyes in the ``meats.''

Evoking Christopher Guest here is a given, but the woman in charge of mounting the pageant seems particularly to be a character out of ``Waiting for Guffman'' or ``Best in Show.'' ``I have to choreograph something -- that has no dancing in it,'' she opines at one point, and at another, she warns her teen charges, ``Do not paint your toenails a bright color; it will make your feet look rather large.''

Nicholson mainly avoids condescending to her subjects except through a sequence that juxtaposes less-than-glamorous childhood photos of the participants with their pageant appearances while their mothers trumpet why they should win. The contests ends with finalists asked an environmental question, and you get a sense that there would be a whole other set of finalists had the question been asked earlier in the competition.

Nonetheless, ``Muskrat Lovely'' is an entertaining and largely beguiling portrait of a local community imbuing itself with meaning.

Despite what you might expect, you'll laugh with -- not at -- those portrayed.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

MUSKRAT LOVELY - Three stars

What: ``Independent Lens'' documentary focusing on a small Maryland county running two contests concurrently: a muskrat-skinning competition and a beauty pageant.

Where: KCET.

When: 10 tonight.

In a nutshell: Funny yet affectionate portrait of a small-town festival.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

A beauty pageant and a wildlife-skinning contest figure prominently in the quirky ``Muskrat Lovely,'' tonight on KCET.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 2006
Words:397
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