Sunday, January 7, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine Review

Slight Spoilers!

Seven year old Olive Hoover is given a chance to compete in California’s Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Since this is last minute news and the family is short on money because the father quit his job to support his “nine steps” to being a winner program, the entire dysfunctional family is forced to board a Volkswagen bus on its last legs to drive seven-hundred plus miles to get Olive to California. Abigail Breslin puts in an impressive performance as the pudgy, sweet faced, beauty queen obsessed Olive.

Paul Dano and Steve Carell both put in a marvelous performance as the Nietzsche-loving teen who took a vow of silence and the suicidal Proust scholar. Steve Carell plays a believable side that accentuates Dano’s silent performance. This hilarious pair almost carry the movie on their own.

Alan Arkin is alternatively amusing and touching as the grandfather, with a very controversial and interesting take on life. It was great to see a character daring to spout such things, and around a seven year old as well. His lack of political correctness was a welcome change. He reminded me very much of my own grandfather, with foul language and a heroin addiction.

Toni Collette plays Sheryl, a well-crafted mom who is the grounding for the rest of the family, and whose only vice seems to be smoking. It created an engaging dynamic to have a family member who is fairly normal and based in reality managing to deal with everyone else. As a side note, I appreciate her character’s take on parenting. I would have loved for my parents to be as straight forward with me when I was kid. Just because a kid is seven doesn’t mean that they are stupid and can’t figure out what is going on. Olive would have resented her later in life after she did figure out what had happened to her uncle.

Greg Kinnear as Richard makes you want to punch him in the face. Through the entire movie. If it’s not speeches on winners and losers and his “nine step” program it’s subtle manipulation of Olive to make her feel bad or open rudeness to his wife’s brother. He is very convincing, and by the end of the film you have some sympathy for this failed motivational speaker.

I do, however, have a minirant inspired by this movie. The way the contestants in the Little Miss Sunshine are dressed and made up is ridiculous. They are wearing adult make-up, adult clothes (two piece bathing suits), and strutting around like sex symbols. And they are scandalized about the dance Olive does, but see nothing wrong with seven year olds wearing pounds of make up, bikinis, and swishing their hips around? I mean really. Even the other dances that the little girls do are provocative in some way or another. And people wonder why our society has issues with pedophilia.

Besides that, the treatment of a seven-year old was appalling. If I had been at the pageant, I’d have found the performance amusing, if a little tasteless. I suppose it wasn’t high class enough sex appeal for the staff of the Little Miss Sunshine contest, or it was just so in their face they were unwillingly forced to acknowledge how disturbing their pageant was. They couldn’t pretend the issues didn’t exist with a little girl (who had won in another state!) dancing around like a stripper to the song “Super Freak”.

The ending is the only let down, I think, and mainly because it doesn’t really tie up any of the story arcs, except perhaps Olive’s. I didn’t expect a full tie-up of the character arcs because the characters are so complicated and the issues in their lives are not easily resolved, but I felt that not even their trip was finished. We assume that they get home without anymore amusing or dangerous incidents, but it would be nice to know. I just wished there was a little more closure to the entire story. To be perfectly fair, however, I can’t think of a better ending myself, because it is a very hard movie to tie up.

In an age of Hollywood flash, it was refreshing to see a character directed story, with deep and realistic characters.

4.5 out of 5.0 quills.

"Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, they don't even try."

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