One thing must be made clear before we delve into this little article: I am usually a self-righteous cynic when it comes to movies. I am bored with nearly everything I see and I usually end up being the pretentious ass in the back row ranting on about post-modernism and auteur theory. Not today.
Today Big Hollywood has actually managed to make a film that gives a damn about its message without alienating its audience or forcing its producers to pour millions into the budget just to guarantee some kind of box office return. And it’s funny. And smart. And fun to watch.
Little Miss Sunshine is the story of the Hoover family and their desperate attempt to head West to California for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, the event which youngest daughter Olive is a contestant in. After some tough negotiations, the entire family piles into a decrepit 1971 VW Bus and hits the road, complete with baggage, neurosis, porn and heroin.
Sunshine attracted a truly loaded cast with Greg Kinnear flawlessly embracing the failed motivational speaker father Richard, while Toni Collette manages to wrangle all the family’s eccentric secrets as the supportive mother Sheryl.
Those secrets emanate from her brother and failed suicide victim, Frank, played by Steve Carrell; or from Olive’s heroin-addicted grandfather embodied by Alan Arkin. Paul Dano rocks the role of Olive’s mute, Air Force Academy bound older brother Dwayne.
Now, raise your hand if you thought your family was dysfunctional. Now raise your hand if you’ve tried to stuff all that dysfunction into a crappy van and drive it hundreds of miles to Southern California for some ridiculous, single-afternoon affair. Toni Collette poignantly summarizes Little Miss Sunshine and the filmmaking process when she says, “Life’s a journey, man.”
The film becomes a hybrid of a road picture, comedy, satire and melodrama as the Hoover family and their van trek not only across the country, but through their own issues and quirks – which include a closet penchant for porn, a Proust scholar complex, Nietzsche and a nine step, self-help plan.
Yet, Kinnear describes the Hoover family as “very functional.” Despite all the family’s idiosyncrasies and flaws, they somehow manage to survive each other. Collette concurs, explaining that the film reassures audiences that “it is okay for [life] to be so chaotic.”
Even when the whole universe is collapsing around them, the Hoovers never lose heart; and the movie as a whole shares this sentiment. It never gets cynical. Unlike most other films of its kind which usually adopt an air of cynicism and contempt, Sunshine maintains a hopefulness and sense of humor necessary to survive any road trip in a broken-down bus.
If you haven’t figured out that the bus becomes a kind of character on its own (and a metaphor too. Go figure.), then perhaps you might consider skipping Sunshine at the cineplex. Don’t be deceived by the lighthearted tone of the movie – Little Miss Sunshine takes on some serious issues, but does so with compassion and humor, which is ultimately what separates it from other indie trash.
And unlike mainstream explosion-addled garbage with bad acting, Sunshine actually leaves the audience with a sense that they “have been through something,” hopes co-director Valeria Faris. The film offers validation that “there is something right in the world” despite how aimless life can sometimes appear to be. The film wildly embraces genuine character and oddity over the façade of normalcy labeled The American Dream.
At the start of this little article I claimed that Big Hollywood produced this gem called Little Miss Sunshine. I lied. Actually, it’s an indie film. It took a small crew with an intimate cast and a minimal budget, all under the guidance of first-time feature co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris to pull of a film as genuine as this one.
Perhaps that is why I can write a few hundred words that actually commend the moviemaking industry. Films like Little Miss Sunshine offer a glimpse into humanity, and aren’t afraid to embrace it. Then again, if humanity just isn’t your thing, I’m sure Big Hollywood will dutifully offer a plethora of alternatives.
Little Miss Sunshine releases in select theaters July 26.
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By Kaitlyn Thornton
Article posted on 7/18/2006
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