Monday, December 9, 2019

#24- Beauty Without Expression is Boring

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

A little girl peers into a television set. The camera focuses on her giant crystal blue eyes. In the reflection of her big square glasses we see a beauty pageant. The new Miss America has just been named. The little girl mimics Miss Americas shocked reaction as they place a crown on her head. She slowly raises her hands up to her mouth in surprise. She waves to a cheering, adoring audience. She's crying tears of joy. The little girl grabs the remote,  rewinds it to the beginning and watches it again. This is something she's done before, and will do again. This is Olive Hoover,  she's seven years old and her dream is to be Miss America.

Little Miss Sunshine is a movie that in two hours can summarize the family dynamic so poignantly that you'd swear you just went to therapy. I love this movie man,  so much, and you know what? It really loves you back,  it truly does. It's funny and beautiful and so incredibly genuine that it honestly has the power to teach you something,  and will. The film starts with the melancholy synth waves of DeVotchka's "The Winner Is" and is the body of the films score. It is a touching piece and really injects the movie with warm yet mournful sound. The movie was made on the shoestring budget of 8 million dollars and is the very definition of indie gem.   

Olive,  played so authentically, by then newcomer Abigail Breslin is a revelation. Her heartfelt portrayal of an enthusiastic budding beauty queen is so real that you'll fall in love the very minute she's on screen. 

As Olive is acting out her fantasy,  we see a contrasting scene. Frank, her uncle,  played so beautifully by Steve Carell,  is seen in a hospital. His wrists are wrapped in gauze. A down on his luck Proust scholar who has spiraled into depression and self destruction. He's attempted suicide after his gay lover left him for a MacArthur genius grant recipient, also a Proust scholar. The two scenes juxtaposed against each other is brilliant. In Olive's young face we see hope,  joy,  a reason to believe,  against all reason,  that she could indeed be Miss America. In Carell's we see the opposite,  his eyes shrink wrapped in tears,  no reason to hope at all. Carell is a marvel. Gone are the hilarious cringey moments he is known for,  instead he's coming for your heart and isn't stopping until he gets it. 

Coming to pick him up is his sister,  and Olive's mom,  Sheryl. A strong performance by Toni Collette, She is the rock,  the tie that binds this family together,  but she's slipping, about to unravel. Frayed by the constant struggle to keep her family whole. Her only real joy seems to be the 5 minutes she allows herself to sneakily burn down a cigarette. 

When Sheryl receives news that Olive can compete in the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant the family is tasked with a race against time to get her to Redondo Beach, CA from Albuquerque, NM. in two days. A Family that can barely stand being under the same roof,  must now share a Vintage VW T2 Microbus bus for 800 miles.

Can I drive 800 miles with Steve Carell and Toni Collette please?

Driving the bus is Greg Kinnear,  Richard Hoover,  the dad with his shirt tucked into his shorts,  and a clip on phone. You know? that dad. He's an unimpressive motivational speaker,  obsessed with what makes a winner and what defines a loser. His grating Type A overconfidence makes him so easy to despise that you'll do so immediately. However,  it makes his journey and growth all that much sweeter. Along with their Grandfather,  a vulgar yet tender,  Alan Arkin who has turned to drugs to forget the reality of his waning health and their quiet Nietzsche obsessed son,  Dwayne,  who has taken a vow of silence until he can reach flight school,  the Hoovers hit the road. 

The bus really does become the 7th member of the family. As the group has to push start it every time they stop. It becomes this awesome team building exercise,  a real microcosm of the idea of the movie. Together this family is capable of great things,  even if it starts with something as mundane as pushing a small VW bus. In a classic american road movie,  which this very much is,  the vehicle is always a supporting character and just like every part of this movie the vintage VW is something you'll find yourself smiling about days later. 

Team Building

As the family gets closer to Redondo Beach they each suffer their own personal setbacks. Watching the family confront these challenges and grow from them is such a rewarding experience. I mean it when I say that this movie is filled with an intense love. You can't help but want the very best for this family. Specifically a scene with Dwayne, that is especially powerful and completely cathartic. 

Once the Hoovers actually get to the pageant the film has really found it's stride. I'm not lying when I say the scene where Olive finally performs her talent portion of the show will have you jumping off your couch and shouting with joy. It's a satire that asks us the question, what is true beauty? and what are we as a society teaching our youth about quantifying it? All this while making you cry and laugh and love. Have I mentioned how beautiful this film is yet?  

The One and Only Little Miss Sunshine

As the film ends,  the family push starts the old VW van one last time. But this time it's different. As they all look at one another,  their journey complete,  you realize something. They've been transformed,  bonded by the unique trials and tribulations that only a great journey can provide. Maybe they'll make it after all. As they hop in the van one by one you see that they all have smiles on their faces and so do you, it's then you begin to understand, you've been apart of this voyage as well. A silent passenger, learning and growing and allowing yourself to believe that we could all use a little more sunshine in our lives. 

The title of the blog is a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. He explained this movie in 5 words better than I ever could. Watch it for Ralph....

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