MovieHype00697 – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Every movie fan has a short list of films that really just need a big ol’ hug. These movies are usually tiny, and not likely to generate a lot of press or attention on their own. They often are brimming with great performances and heart, and need our help to be seen and appreciated. I know I have banged the drum for more than one independent film, telling all I know, writing reviews here. I’m not just a movie critic, I’m a fan, I’m passionate, and I see it as my job to present you, the readers, with more options besides whatever spandex titfest the multiplex has to offer. (Although, I think I would advocate a spandex-titfest too.)
If I had seen LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE early last year it would have become my latest project. Luckily, enough other like-minded people had the same idea, and the pushed the film to everyone they could think of. This led to extraordinary box-office success (60 million domestic; almost unheard of for a first-time director’s indie), as well as the numerous nominations and awards.
Which led us to the last film in the Movie Marathon. When I saw the original slate I was somewhat puzzled. Why end on an inconsequential comedy, I thought. Why not go out on the expected winner (THE DEPARTED), something with heft and weight?
I now understand.
My compatriots in the movie marathon (Koz and Nobel) were agreed that THE DEPARTED was the best film. Most of the audience seemed to generally feel that way too. But I tell you without exaggeration that the film we (and seemingly everybody) enjoyed the most was LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.
Maybe we were just tired after so many long serious films, and needed a laugh break. Maybe we would have cheered for a Adam Sandler comedy after the wealth of boring that was LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Whatever the cause, I know this: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE had the audience laughing the entire way though. And when it ended, it was the only film that received an ovation.
The movies details the lives of the Hoovers, a family that can only be objectively labeled as a bunch of losers. [I just erased a big whole paragraph sketching out what each one’s major malfunction is, because I realized I want you to discover it for yourself.] The point is, this family (Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Uncle Frank and Brother Dwayne) is barely functional, and pretty miserable. Anyone can spot it a mile away.
Except the littlest member of the family, Olive. Too young to know what a group of miscreants she got stuck with, Olive loves them all, is blind to her faults, as well as her own.
This last part includes desperately wanting to compete in beauty pageants shows, a bug she caught with the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, despite having a body type not usually associated with those underage cattle-calls of who can look most like a whore.
(I actually need to pause a minute here and say that at one point we do actually witness a beauty pageant straight out of Jon-Benet Ramsey territory. The resulting scene is one I have written about in other forms many times, and would love to pen an opus on this time, but I don’t want to get distracted, as the film definitely DOES NOT endorse these pageants, so there is no conflict of interest.)
Anyway, when Olive is informed that she can compete in the finals for Little Miss Sunshine, the family is compelled on a journey across three states to get her there in time. The rest you can see for yourself.
Why did I love this movie so much?
For one, this family seemed like my family. Not so much in specifics, but just in the sense of how much they all are struggling. Part of what makes it heart-warming and funny how much you come to care about all of them. Kaida told me before the movie that I would root for these characters by the end. Boy, was she right. I’m not sure I have ever rooted harder for characters. They go through so much misery that you can’t help but be totally in their corner. (Koz and I were so invested by the end that we almost couldn’t watch, so afraid matters wouldn’t turn out in the end.)
There is simply too much to talk about with how much I loved this movie. Like I said earlier, I just wanted to give it a giant hug. When I finally returned home from Movie Marathon Meekend, the first thing I did was cajole my family into watching it with me. This took some doing, as several of the characters that might not be appreciated at first glance (sex, drugs, Nietzsche), but I knew if I could get them past it they would love the film as much as I.
And they did. We laughed the whole way through, almost as much as the truly electric atmosphere in the theatre. There is an old VW bus that plays a central character, mostly because of how well it does not run. This made my dad almost choke to death laughing, as he recounted stories of the VW bus we had in Kenya, and how once the wire that goes from the engine (in back) to the front snapped so they had to rig a rope up and have my mom in the back tugging this way and that to make it back from the jungle. Good times.
Part of me wants to give you great quotes, outline the plot a little bit, and generally talk about the awesomeness of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, in order to get you excited too. But I don’t want you to know much more than you should have. Therefore I am throwing down the gauntlet and staking my reputation as a movie critic on the line. You’re going to love this film: I guarantee it. And if you don’t, there is no need to talk to me again, as I would certainly never talk to you.
A couple of notes in closing: There is quite a bit of language in this, especially in one scene, that involves Grandpa talking about how much sex one should have as a teenager. It’s dirty, probably unnecessary, and completely hilarious. (Although: this scene brought the house down in the theatre, but didn’t go over quite so well in our trailer.) The reason I bring this up is that some of you object to cursing or sexual language, and might be turned off by that. What can I say? If it’s truly a deal breaker, then you won’t enjoy LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. However, I think most of you can separate your feelings in this way. Yes, this is a family, but a flawed family. They have problems, and they don’t always express themselves correctly. You can deal. (Hey, if my mom and dad, two of the most conservative people on the planet could handle it, you can. That being said, I wouldn’t let kids younger than high school watch this until you have watched it first.)
Second note: The film received four Academy Award nominations, winning two of them. Two of the nominations for acting, for Abigail Breslin (the little girl Olive) and for Alan Arkin (Grandpa, who actually won). There was some controversy over the nominations and the victory. I personally would have nominated Steve Carell and Paul Dano (Uncle Frank and Dwayne), but understood why the nominations came as they did. I think in some ways the nominations were meant to honor the film as a whole. I mean, how many times does a small comedy get a Best Picture nomination? The film had almost zero chance to win (although winning Best Original Screenplay is a pretty huge plum), but the nominations themselves are validation of a sort. As far as who actually got nominated, the little girl is simply too adorable for words. She got nominated for her winning heart. And grandpa may have been nominated for that hilarious filthy speech, or because Arkin is such a film legend. (His victory may have been one for the entire movie, or one of those career things too.) I didn't see all the nominated performances, but I can't complain.
NOW GO RENT THIS MOVIE!
HYPERION HAS SPOKEN!
MAKE IT SO