Little Miss Sunshine
Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris :: USA :: 2005 :: 1h40
A dysfunctional provincial American family road movie where the assorted group of indifferent self absorbed characters to come together at the end, as you would expect. Although funny, the movie is disturbing at heart and forces us into a series of endlessly seen scenes with a dubious morality to hold it all together. It is a dark comedy, but the persistent emphasis on a sort-of realism obstructs the required absurdity to shine through to permit it to transcend into comedy.
The characters all have a single obsessional characteristic to work with, and painfully little love to share. As if being passionate about something requires ignoring everything (and everyone) else. The discomfort these people feel with each other, starts with them all shouting at each other over an atrocious meal. The movie continues with more bad food, bad parenting, bad language, perversity and lovelessness served in a soup of indifference.
The first real moments of kindness come up, bizarrely enough, near the end within the context of a perverse TV-style beauty contest. We are set in the hall with the father as he watches the little girls with excessive make-up pretend to be sexy beauty pageants, seated next to someone we are suggested to be a pedophile. When his little girl, the real star of the movie, comes on, she does a striptease(!) act. Besides the discomfort of watching this all, bare in mind that it was her grandfather -a sex-obsessed drug user- who had been training the little girl behind closed doors. With such a discomforting family life, the audience would have to prefer the leering at sexualized pre-teen beauty pageant contestants, as at least there, the staff showed some caring for the children.
It is not just the little girl who is neglected. Nobody took the time to notice that the son is color blind, which, when it comes out (based on one color-test card!) his dream of becoming a pilot is shattered. Following this neglect, they are then unwilling to console him. And then there’s the suicidal uncle who gets no more than courtesy help from the others. The brutality of living in a loveless world can not just be sung over with a jolly soundtrack, with no consolation to hang on to. The movie’s obsession with the silly duality theory of the main character – that people are either ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ – weighs heavily on the lack of multidimensionality of the characters. The underlying morality badly needs a serious re-think.
One inspired road-movie moment occurs in the hospital, which I will not ruin because it is the most creative and funny part of the movie should you watch it. Many commentators have reminded their readers that the scene (and its consequences) is a rip-off from National Lampoon’s Vacation, but if, like me, you have not seen that movie it should not bother you.
If you go in to judge for yourself, bare in mind that you have to sit through uninspired dialogues, filmed in unoriginal locations with a repulsive theme. For a feel-good movie, it is quite a lot to digest.