' ' Cinema Romantico: Little Miss Sunshine

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

Ask yourself which of the following you find more disturbing - your daughter at a beauty contest dancing to a certain provocative funk song from the '70's? Or naming your daughter Charismatic?

The movie tells the story of a dysfunctional family (an aside here about the criticism most likely to be leveled – if the family isn’t dysfunctional, you don’t have a movie). And the movie has to essentially get us completely up to speed with this family through a single scene, right at the start, and does it quite well. The father (Greg Kinnear) has high hopes for his 9-step Refuse to Lose program. The mother plops a box of popsicles down on the dinner table and declares, “Here’s dessert”. Her brother (Steve Carrell) is America’s 2nd best Proust Scholar who has just attempted suicide. The son has taken a vow of silence until he becomes an Air Force pilot. The grandfather keeps heroine in his fanny pack. And, oh yes, daughter Olive has just learned she will be part of the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant in California. This, of course, means the dysfunctional family must hit the road……hit the road in a van that makes for much of the movie’s best humor.

Some of the side-stories work and some don’t, which is pretty much par for the course with this type of film. But what is unique about the film is the lack of change in most of the characters. Take any How-To-Write-A-Screenplay Class and then instantly start hammering home the utmost importance of arc. And while those “helpful” professors blather on about “arc”, the screenwriters of “Little Miss Sunshine” are watching their movie play at theaters all over the country.

Okay, I’m sorry about the personal diatribe. Let me get back on track here.

The characters realize things. But they don’t necessarily change. The decisions Greg Kinnear makes at the end are not in any way out of step with the feelings and attitudes he had at the start. The son may have come to terms with whether or not he can be an Air Force pilot but his attitude and outlook don’t really turn in a different direction.

The film is more a chronicle of one family taking the very first step (however small) in the road to self-recovery. That’s rare anymore in Hollywood – which often requires the entire act of self-recovery to be crammed into the 2 hour running time regardless of whether or not it feels forced or over-stuffed. But in “Little Miss Sunshine” when the family meets its fate onstage with that certain provocative funk song from the ‘70’s you don’t feel that they have come full circle, but you do feel they have started in that direction.

And they're definitely glad they didn't name their daughter Charismatic.

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