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Monday, July 27, 2009

Little Miss Sunshine - A Review

On one hand this was a bright and refreshing movie. On the other, it was disturbing and had a cringe factor of 9.5 out of 10! If awkwardness had a liquid state then you would be soaking in it before the credits begin to roll... the annoying thing is, I can’t tell you why, not without spoiling the end for you entirely...

This is the movie that reminds most of us why we don’t entertain family gatherings all too often. It is the story of a dysfunctional, dissatisfied, distracted group of self absorbed individuals who are all unfortunately related. Greg Kinnear plays the Dad, a loser who just can’t admit it. In fact he is so big a loser that he has over compensated by developing a 9 step program to be a winner in life. He’s like Tony Robbins only he’s nothing like Tony Robbins at all. He spends half the movie hanging on the hinge of a book deal that never eventuates. Then there’s Tony Collette’s character, the mother, who is just trying to keep it together, doesn’t believe much in the 9 steps, unless by 9 steps you mean the procedures for serving take aways for dinner every night. Their son Dwayne, played by Paul Dano, is a Fredrich Nietzsche obsessed teenager who has taken a vow of silence until he fulfils his dream of becoming a pilot, Grand dad, Alan Arkin, who takes drugs because “At your age you’re crazy to take that (beep) but at my age you’re crazy not to!” Steve Carell lands on the scene as the uncle fresh out of the psychiatric ward for trying to kill himself and amidst this familial anarchy of people with the same blood boiling with hatred for one another there is Olive, performed by Abigail Breslin, a wonderful oddly shaped little ray of sunshine in the darkness abounding around her. She has a tummy shaped like a speed bump and glasses thick enough, and big enough, to build a fish tank out of.

As the family sit down to dinner on a Friday night, and remind each other of their loathing for life and one another over a nourishing meal of fried chicken we discover that Olive has made it through to the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. The only problem is its on Sunday and not wanting to break the heart of this strange-to-look-at little girl the whole family are dragged into a road trip down the highway to hell with each other’s company as the flames and various devices of torment.

The film makers go to great lengths to make this family as dysfunctional as possible but with the ray of light that Olive casts on the garden of her family, seeds of hope begin to sprout through the manure of their personal dreads. During their travels each person faces a crisis, whether big or small, and they somehow manage to overcome as a family. Someone even dies and they still manage to pack him up in the boot and stop at nothing to get to the beauty pageant because “It’s what he would have wanted.”

Once at the beauty pageant we see Olive against the other entries of “normal” girls from “normal” families and we are confronted by the abnormality of it all. I don’t know much about child pageants but after seeing this film and the other contestants, who resembled happy faced, white toothed genetic mishaps, I have concluded that it is something I will keep my own daughter well away from! What we may have thought of as a normal well adjusted family in the beginning of the movie is twisted into something horrifically worrisome compared to this sweet little girl whose greatest personal success in the story is discovering that Miss California still eats ice cream.

I’m reminded of the words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees that a “... house divided against itself can not stand” (Luke 11:17). And this house stands to fall, at least until they get over themselves and start working together to see Olive’s dream come true. It’s an interesting parable of how in any group as long as the individual’s are just out for themselves and behave selfishly then that group can not function properly or civilly; but as soon as they zip up their selfish genes peace descends upon the family like a tidal wave of functionality and bliss.

Regrettably this is a hard movie to write about in the sense that if I even hint at what happens at the end then the whole house of cards will succumb to a catastrophe of blow torch proportions, but I can say this... in my years of experience sitting on my butt with my eyes wide open and my brain more or less switched off, I have come to learn that it is the end of a film that will either make it or destroy it, and this little gem has an ending that is unparalleled in a long history of endings – that let me tell you. It qualifies the entire movie and though disconcerting it redeems the entire family along with the 98 minutes of couch hugging you will need to endure it.

The language is not for the faint eared among you, the “F” word abounds and the initial hatred that spills from the families discontent lips can be depressing. There is also some moral ambiguity relating to themes of sexuality and who exactly goes to Heaven when they die, but if you can ignore all that then you’re in for a good ride...

I give this film an 8 out of 10 for offering something fresh to modern cinema!

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