Saturday, April 14, 2007

Antidote for an American Myth: Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine: from my review at Amazon. If you haven't seen this yet, I encourage you to run out at your earliest convenience and grab a copy.

The is one of the best movies I have seen in years.

It has been described as a movie about a dysfunctional family, but I disagree. On an important level, these people are us. Do all of us win all the time?

True, in a sense, everyone in the family is a "loser." They do not succeed in that quintessential "American" way. The father isn't great at his job, the mother complains because there isn't enough money, the son is colorblind, Olive isn't "pretty" in that beauty contest kind of way, the Uncle is gay, has lost a prestigious job, and is unhappy in love, and Grandpa snorts cocaine to numb his pain.

These do not sound like unusual problems to me, but together, they do make for a lot of really funny and poignant moments.

FYI: This is not a Hollywood Myth about the underdog winning the day. I say "Yay!" Aren't you tired of those?

I think the movie wants us to ask ourselves what the word "loser" means. Each person in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE has failed in some important dream, but are we so enraptured with the American Myth of "success" that we would truly call this family dysfunctional? The Myth tells us that "anybody" can do "anything" as long as he or she believes hard enough. I think the movie is saying that the Myth is a dysfunctional myth.

The problem with these characters in the beginning is not that they have dreams, but that they are afraid to fail. Failure in America is a dirty word: if you can't succeed in America, then where? Must we creep around in perpetual sorrow if our dreams don't come true? Maybe we are dreaming the wrong dream, anyway. Isn't that what life is for, figuring those things out?

At the end of the movie, although each character has failed in a significant way, each is a winner in a deeper sense. And they certainly do not come across to me as "losers" or as a dysfunctional family. I think they finally are seeing some things clearly for the first time.

This is a movie filled with humor and humanity. It is a wonderful antidote to a myth that would make us all feel like "losers" when things don't go our way. I wish there were more movies like this.

And by the way, I don't laugh easily at movies. But I laughed so hard at the end of this movie that my glasses steamed up.


Cynthia said...

I can't tell you how much I love this movie. Earlier this week, when my loser-dom was crashing in on me, I was thinking that I really needed to watch it again and soon. Very soon.

GreenishLady said...

I too loved this movie. That 'dysfunctional' family really functioned wonderfully well in supporting Olive in all the ways that mattered.

Anonymous said...

A marvelous film whose writer worked in the business for ten years, was fired and rehired during the process of making the film. Then won the Oscar for best original screenplay. The co- directors also worked in video for twenty years. The film, as a low budget project, actually is an underdog in Hollywood terms, that made it to large distribution- whose writer and directors are an 'overnight' sensation...

Anonymous said...

Marvelous independent film. Writer, who worked in business for ten years, was fired then rehired in process of production. Then won Best Original Screenplay. Co-directors worked in video for twenty years. Film became 'overnight' sensation.


Erin said...

I have not yet seen this but have been meaning to. With this glowing endorsement, I will do so soon!

Anonymous said...

This movie would seem to contradict The Secret, beloved by Oprah and a lot of success coaches and gurus. The Secret (as I understand it) is about being able to do anything and achieve anything if you try hard enough and believe it will happen for you and want it badly enough (major positive thinking & Norman Vincent Peale stuff)--and this is the myth that Little Miss Sunshine exposes. But apparently there is still a strong need to believe in that myth (I know I want to believe, even though I've seen no proof in my own life). Or maybe the myth works for some people (the lucky ones, the self-righteous ones, and if it doesn't work for me, then I haven't tried hard enough or believed deeply enough)? But we have another saying, that bad things happen to good people, which seems closer to Miss Sunshine. I'd love to hear what others think about this apparent contradiction in our national psyche, and my own. Teagrapple

Theresa Williams--Author (Exile Edition) said...

Teagrapple, I think one of the challenges of life is to figure out which dreams are the right dreams for us. In the movie, the little girl's dream of being a beauty queen is the wrong dream for her. All of the characters are following the wrong dream, in fact. I think the Uncle's situation clearly explains things. He wanted to be a famous Proust scholar and is jealous when it happens to a colleague. He is so disappointed that he tries to kill himself. Yet as he admits, Proust was not famous and is not famous, still; he wrote a book that hardly anyone reads. So is Proust successful? What does success mean? I think the movie puts a high priority on love.



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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